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Long process to negotiate new Prof & Tech contracts

By Ron Shoemaker
Technical Unit Negotiation Team
SPEEA Northwest Vice President

As a 30-year Boeing employee, I've been through a number of contract negotiations. This year is unquestionably different. With the effort still playing out, a recap may help explain our situation.

Attempt at early agreement
After a quick settlement with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) in the fall of 2011, Boeing approached SPEEA and suggested a similar approach with the possibility of an early agreement. Acting as the interim negotiation team, the Executive Board agreed and held a two-day meeting with Boeing.

At the meeting, SPEEA proposed simply rolling over the existing contract. Boeing rejected our proposal and proceeded to present information pointing to the company's intent to make offers that cut wages and benefits. Our board made it clear that any offer that was below our existing compensation package was not in the best interest of SPEEA members.

With the quick settlement off the table, the Prof and Tech bargaining unit councils elected negotiation teams. Still hopeful for a somewhat early settlement, our SPEEA negotiation teams began meeting each week with Boeing in April.

Once the joint sessions began, the company launched a campaign to convince SPEEA negotiation team members that Boeing faced tough times and fierce competition. To remain competitive, SPEEA members needed to accept less.

A closer look at this "hardship" is helpful.

Record sales, backlog
and bottom line

Boeing's 2012 first-quarter profit soared 58%, to $923 million compared to $586 million during the same period in 2011. Boeing sales increased 34%, creating a backlog of orders valued at $308 billion. Second-quarter profit increased to $967 million, and revenue jumped 21% to $20 billion. None of this was reflected in the offer Boeing presented to SPEEA.

The company's across-the-board cuts were not salvageable. So our negotiating teams sent them to SPEEA members. A strong rejection sent a message to Boeing that the company must negotiate with our elected teams. Doing otherwise is not in its best interest. Despite the overwhelming rejection, the company's goal still is to cut SPEEA engineering and technical members' total compensation package.

Some of you are wondering what happens now? After members voted to reject the company offers by 95.5% and 97%, Boeing negotiators seem confused. What they (the company) believed and stated to us (SPEEA) is the SPEEA negotiating team is representing ONLY a cranky few SPEEA members. Many on the company team believed our members would agree with cost shifting, elimination of benefits, stripping away basic contract rights and granting Boeing the ability to revise key elements of the contract at any time. Boeing negotiators said their offer recognized and rewarded the contributions of the engineering and technical work force.

No gains
Those offers provided no economic gains for members and their families. Worse, they set us back by providing raise pools short of the inflation rate. It is an individual economic loss for all SPEEA members. Boeing shifted additional expenses on members, including increases in medical co-pays for less coverage and an assortment of cuts, penalties and takeaways that all mean less for SPEEA members.

We all know Boeing rewarded the shareholders, top-level executives, and middle-level executives. What is the executive contribution for these inflated rewards?
In my opinion, Boeing's focus changed in the mid-90s from a company that wanted to be a successful aerospace company to a company focused on creating wealth for executives and shareholders.

SPEEA members' contributions to the overwhelming success of Boeing are recognized worldwide. Our members are recognized as the best and brightest in aerospace. Why are these simple facts not relevant to Boeing Corporate? Chicago is focused not on company success, it is focused on Wall Street and shareholders. How many aircraft have been designed, built and delivered to customers by Wall Street?

Out of touch
Boeing Puget Sound is a subordinate of Boeing Corporate Chicago. Corporate is out of touch with our members and these negotiations. As an example, our negotiations take place in rooms filled with Boeing senior vice presidents and company subject matter experts. On our side are SPEEA negotiation team members, staff experts and legal counsel. We are ready for substantive talks. However, at recent meetings, the only one talking on the Boeing side is the representative from Boeing Corporate in Chicago.

In the coming weeks, our SPEEA negotiating teams will make recommendations to members to help obtain suitable contracts. Members sacrifice family, friends and personal time for Boeing. It's inconceivable this dedication be rewarded with benefits cuts, reductions in salary growth, a less valuable retirement benefit and cuts to career education programs.

Our Prof and Tech teams will continue to inform members about progress or lack of progress at the negotiation table. In the future, we may request full member support to remind the company you are serious about a contract that respects our contributions now and in the future.

About our future
These negotiations are about more than just existing members. We share Boeing's stated goal of "attracting and retaining the best and brightest." The best way to achieve this goal is to provide and maintain good pay, benefits and career growth. The simple answer is to respect the contributions made by everyone involved in the success of the company. Contract offers that do that will attract the best and brightest new engineers and technical workers. Those offers will also keep the knowledge and experience of existing workers around long enough to train the next generation of workers.