Union Proposes A New Way To Negotiate Union Contracts With Boeing


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Union Proposes A New Way To Negotiate Union Contracts With Boeing

By Shane Nolan

June 13, 2011 - Recognizing the need to avoid disruption to airplane production, the union representing nearly 22,000 engineers and technical workers at The Boeing Company is proposing the two sides use binding binary interest arbitration to resolve fiscal differences during the next round of contract talks. Agreement to the proposal eliminates the possibility of a strike or lockout.

Existing SPEEA contracts with Boeing expire December 2, 2011 for 600 engineers in Wichita and October 6, 2012 for 21,000 engineers and technical workers across the western United States.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) is a local of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers (IFPTE), represents 24,600 aerospace professionals at Boeing, Spirit AeroSystems in Kansas, Triumph Composite Systems, Inc., in Spokane, Wash., and BAE Systems, Inc., in Irving, Texas.

Boeing continues to build South Carolina to begin assembling Boeings new 787 Dreamliner. The plant will house 1,000 nonunion workers and begin assembling planes by July.

In binding binary interest arbitration, the union and company create negotiation rules that submit any fiscal disputes to an independent arbitrator who, like a judge, decides the issue. The dispute is reduced to fact-and-data-driven arguments. The arbitrator?s decision is final. The innovative proposal was outlined to the union?s 150-member governing council Saturday morning (June 11) by SPEEA Executive Director Ray Goforth. SPEEA is holding its annual convention in Seattle this week.  

?Interest-arbitration isn?t perfect, and it?s not appropriate if either the union or the employer intend to use raw power to gain more at the bargaining table than they could otherwise justify to a neutral arbitrator. But if both sides intend to be reasonable and rational, interest-arbitration is a way to solve fiscal disputes without the collateral damage that comes from a strike or lockout,? said Goforth.  

?We have a responsibility to show leadership.? Goforth continued. ?Our national polity is currently engaged in a series of heated conflicts about the rights of corporations versus organized labor. Our national economy is teetering on the edge of a double-dip recession. The national momentum points to conflict and chaos. Rather than get swept up in that momentum, we can charter a different model of dispute resolution. Boeing is an aerospace leader. Boeing has the chance to partner with SPEEA to become a labor-relations leader.?


Back in April the NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued a complaint against the Boeing Company alleging that it violated federal labor law by deciding to transfer a second production line to a non-union facility in South Carolina for discriminatory reasons.  

Boeing announced in 2007 that it planned to assemble seven 787 Dreamliner airplanes per month in the Puget Sound area of Washington state, where its employees have long been represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The company later said that it would create a second production line to assemble an additional three planes a month to address a growing backlog of orders. In October 2009, Boeing announced that it would locate that second line at the non-union facility. 

In repeated statements to employees and the media, company executives cited the unionized employees? past strike activity and the possibility of strikes occurring sometime in the future as the overriding factors in deciding to locate the second line in the non-union facility. 

The NLRB launched an investigation of the transfer of second line work in response to charges filed by the Machinists union and found reasonable cause to believe that Boeing had violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act because its statements were coercive to employees and its actions were motivated by a desire to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity. 

?A worker's right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act,? Mr. Solomon said. ?We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law. I have worked with the parties to encourage settlement in the hope of avoiding costly litigation, and my door remains open to that possibility.? 

To remedy the alleged unfair labor practices, the Acting General Counsel sought an order that would require Boeing to maintain the second production line in Washington state. The complaint did not seek closure of the South Carolina facility, nor did it prohibit Boeing from assembling planes there. 

At present a legal is playing out across the South and in Congress. Boeing reports the South Carolina plant offered a lot of incentives to get the plant, however the union stated Boeing broke the law and violated workers' rights. 

Boeing is among the largest global aircraft manufacturers by revenue, orders and deliveries, and the third largest aerospace and defense contractor in the world based on defense-related revenue. Boeing is the largest exporter by value in the United States. Its stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. 

Candy Eslinger, a spokeswoman for Boeing in South Carolina, says she can't talk specifically about the union complaint. But she says it hasn't changed anything at the plant. "Our plans are still going forward," Eslinger reported. "We will be starting production here in July of 2011 and we'll deliver our first airplane out of South Carolina in 2012." Tim Neale a Boeing spokesman stated that Boeing negotiated with the union buts company efforts failed. 

"We were looking to make a new investment and new production capacity," Neale says. "Our current contract acknowledges our right to locate work elsewhere and that's what we chose to do in this case, because we just couldn't get the terms from them that we needed." South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R), criticized the union's complaint on Fox News "It really is very offensive, it's an assault on everything that we know to be American and they have to stop this."

Republican leaders have introduced legislation in the house and senate and began a campaign against the machinists union. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is a strong supporter. "Nobody's pay was cut. Nobody's benefits were reduced because they moved to South Carolina, so this complaint is just frivolous," Graham stated on Senate floor.
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