By Becky Hewitt
SPEEA Negotiation Team
It is now clear these negotiations may be the most important contract talks since 1999/2000. More critical is the fact that the impacts to members will be largely negative if we accept The Boeing Company's proposals as they stand today. This is especially true for younger members.
I've heard many people say defined benefit pension plans, like our BCERP (Boeing Company Employee Retirement Plan), are relics from the past and their elimination is the "wave of the future." I've also heard employees – who are already vested in the BCERP pension – say they are willing to accept Boeing's proposal to eliminate the BCERP. While many of these employees may not be affected by such a proposal if they retire in the next 10-15 years, other early to mid-career employees will live with the consequences of the elimination of the Boeing pension plan.
Having one group of employees with a certain benefit and another group of employees without it is often called a "two-tier" system. In the example of the Boeing pension, as the number of members in the BCERP gets smaller and the number of members outside of the BCERP gets bigger, it is much easier for the company to eliminate it completely in future negotiations.
Federal law protects our vested benefits – they cannot be lost. However, if the BCERP is eliminated for future hires, Boeing will eventually do what other companies have done – freeze contributions to the plan. In 10-15 years, many of us will still be working at Boeing and counting on that pension. If today we bargain it away for future employees, why would they stand up and fight the company so we can keep the pension they will not have?
Our SPEEA Negotiation Teams acknowledged Boeing's legitimate concerns with the BCERP. However, we don't believe it's necessary to eliminate the benefit for future hires. We proposed leaving the BCERP in place and creating a Retirement Security Task Force comprised of SPEEA members and Boeing management. The Task Force would work to create a proposed set of solutions to address retirement security and jointly recommend these solutions to both SPEEA and Boeing Negotiation Teams during the next round of contract talks (2015-2016 timeframe).
We proposed this solution because this issue is complex and requires significant member input. A solution will take time and should not be bound by the time constraints of contract negotiations. Boeing rejected our proposal – one of many they rejected without much discussion.
The SPEEA Negotiation Teams were elected to bargain for the best interests of the entire membership. We take our role in these negotiations very seriously. We feel that "selling out" our future members has a rippling, negative effect on members today and for years to come. We were not elected to recommend a proposal that would divide members, and we cannot in good faith recommend a proposal that would cripple members' ability to have a secure retirement.
As a newcomer to this process, I've learned a lot. I take pride in being a part of this dedicated team. We conduct ourselves professionally and respectfully both at, and away, from the bargaining table. We strive to be transparent, truthful and prepared to address members' concerns effectively. We make no attempts to mischaracterize these negotiations or to mislead members. Like you, we are professional engineers and technical workers. We bring the same integrity and ethics to the bargaining process that we bring with us to work every day. I find any statement to the contrary highly offensive, not only to the team, but to the members who elected us. These negotiations have not been easy. But nothing worth fighting for is easy. SPEEA members – the ones here today and the ones here in the future – are worth fighting for.