BOEING ON STRIKE
NOVEMBER 23, 1995
The "on again, off again," strike at Boeing is "on" again. This week workers rejected a contract offer, citing increased health care costs and cuts in union jobs. Rod Minott of public station KCTS in Seattle reports.
ROD MINOTT: Sherrie Williams says she never wanted to walk this picket line. But after seeing jobs of colleagues disappear over the past several years, the 39-year-old toolmaker says she decided to take a stand against more layoffs. She voted to strike.
SHERRIE WILLIAMS: I feel threatened, and I think if you asked anyone out here on the line, they'd tell you the same thing, yeah, their jobs aren't safe. None of 'em are.
ROD MINOTT: Thirty-two thousand members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Boeing's largest union, walked off their jobs in Washington, Oregon, and Kansas, on October 6th. This is the fifth time in Boeing's history, Machinists have hit the picket lines. The strike came after contract negotiations broke down over issues of wages, medical benefits, and job security. Boeing remains the world's largest maker of commercial jets, such as the new 777. Over the past several years, the company says it's been forced to slash thousands of blue and white collar jobs because of growing competition from other aircraft makers and falling demand for new jets. Since 1992, Boeing has seen orders of its planes drop nearly in half.
SPOKESMAN: We are competing on a global scale.
ROD MINOTT: Boeing President Phil Condit says to survive, the company needs to keep cutting its production costs.
PHIL CONDIT, President, Boeing: We are trying to look at how do we do our processes, how do we make ourselves more efficient, not trying to leave any rock unturned, so this isn't just how can we put pressure on labor; it is really trying to put pressure on ourselves overall to find the best way of making the company competitive.
STRIKER: The walker's power.
ROD MINOTT: But Machinists say the cuts have gone too far. Since 1989, job losses have shrunk the ranks of Boeing Machinists in Washington State by nearly half to 23,500 members. The remaining Machinists also are being asked to accept lower than demanded wage increases. They say they are particularly rankled by the changes that Boeing asked for and their medical benefits. For the first time, employees would have to pay higher deductibles and make higher contributions to the company's most popular medical plan.
STRIKER: Program that you have, and to attempt to destroy it overnight, giving your negotiating committee short notice in order to look at it is--I really think it's not proper. It's immoral. It's wrong. And by God, we ain't gonna let them get away with it!
ROD MINOTT: Boeing argues that such an increase is inevitable because its monthly costs to provide full medical coverage to each worker have doubled in the last five years.
PHIL CONDIT: There is a change to benefits package, but it's sort of in line with what we're all trying to do, which is to find ways of putting a cap on health care costs.
SHERRIE WILLIAMS: (holding daughter) Are you tired?
LITTLE GIRL: Are you tired Shalee?
SHERRIE WILLIAMS: I think Shalee's ready for a nap.
ROD MINOTT: Sherrie Williams, a single mother with two children, says the higher medical costs would be a hardship.
SHERRIE WILLIAMS: If I'm to pay another three to four thousand dollars a year for my family, I can't afford it. I pay $10,000 a year now for child care. I cannot afford to add, keep adding this on top.
ROD MINOTT: In a new contract Boeing offered this week after two days of marathon negotiations, the company offered a general wage increase of 3 percent in 1997 and to lower the monthly cost for insurance. A family now would have to pay $30, down from $45. Although the compromise was endorsed by the union leadership, the rank and file disagreed. Sherrie Williams and a majority of her fellow Machinists rejected the settlement.
SHERRIE WILLIAMS: I voted it down myself.
ROD MINOTT: The language on the picket line in Seattle after the contract was rejected suggests that perhaps what really killed the new contract offer was the issue of subcontracting, jobs that Boeing has been farming out to foreign and domestic aircraft parts suppliers.
VALERIE DAVIS: The American jobs are leaving this country, and they need to look at in the bigger picture than just a little job being subcontracted. Pretty soon a lot of people's jobs are going to be gone because of this.
ROD MINOTT: The unions had demanded a greater voice in okaying Boeing's subcontracting, including a chance to bid on some of that work. Prior to the final contract offer, Boeing had said it would have to contract out even more work to remain competitive. The plan would have meant that 52 percent of each Boeing jet would be made outside of the company, a move that Boeing said would save it $600 million. The company also insisted it needed to subcontract for political reasons. Sales to foreign countries, where 70 percent of Boeing's sales are made, often necessitate and offset a promise that those foreign nations will get some of the aircraft jobs generated. Those offsets were not considered in the new contract offer, but the company did propose to give the union serious consideration on other subcontracting work; however, Boeing would not guarantee that the union would win the contract even if it had the lowest bid. The compromise also would have obligated Boeing to give 90 days advance notice that 50 or more jobs in the Seattle area were going to be eliminated because of subcontracting, but the union said this wasn't enough. In the end, the union membership just wasn't willing to believe that Boeing really needed to cut jobs and benefits. They say they were not willing to ignore the recent disclosure that five of Boeing's top executives stood to make millions of dollars in stock option bonuses for boosting the value of the company's stock.
MIKE LONEY: Sure I'll go back, because if the company wasn't making any money, we wouldn't want more. They are so we do. We'll be there till the last dog is hung.
ROD MINOTT: For its part, Boeing says its reaction was one of disappointment.
RUSS YOUNG, Boeing Spokesman: Just very, very disappointed, but we'll have to try to continue as best we can. Our doors are open, and there's work here for everyone who chooses to report to work.
ROD MINOTT: The union leadership says it is now reevaluating what to put into its contract proposal. No new talks are yet scheduled.