Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Union negotiators recommend C-17 workers approve Boeing contract

LONG BEACH - Negotiators representing striking C-17 workers are urging members to approve a new contract proposal and end a nearly month-long walkout at Boeing's last major production facility in California.

Nine of the ten negotiators involved in talks for a labor contract covering about 1,700 workers in Long Beach and Carson have called for ratification in a vote scheduled Wednesday.

If approved, workers would end all picketing and return to the job Thursday, resuming production on a jet widely used to deliver military and humanitarian goods across the globe.

Representatives of the United Aerospace Workers, which initiated the strike May 11, said the new 58-month contract is an improvement over the deal rejected by 80 percent of its members in early May.

They promised to return to work Thursday if more than 50 percent of workers approve the plan.

"(Boeing) and the union will work together to resume daily operations at Boeing Long Beach and ensure a smooth and safe return to work for all employees at the site," union leaders said in a statement. "Upon ratification...the union will terminate its strike and picketing against the company, as well as all actions intended to negatively influence the company's relationships with customers, investors, educational institutions, government and community officials, and regulatory agencies."

Boeing and the union resumed talks under supervision by a federal mediator on June 3 after weeks of stalemate.

Workers walked off the job in a dispute over healthcare and pension benefits, which were revised in two days of talks overseen by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, an officially neutral agency often called in to help end labor disputes.

Under the new plan, workers would get a $4,000 payment in lieu of a raise this year, followed by 3 percent annual raises in the following years. Basic retirement benefits would also increase, from $79 under the previous plan to $81 monthly for each year with the company or its predecessor, McDonnell Douglas.

Employee contributions to healthcare plans were also reduced, from a proposed 15 percent to 13 percent, beginning in 2014.

The deal also extends by 12 months the length of the contract, an indication the company is secure that foreign orders will keep production humming well into the decade.

"We're hoping to see, and we have seen, a lot of interest in international orders, and we further hope to be building this aircraft for a long time to come," said Cindy Anderson, a Boeing spokeswoman.

Congress is currently considering a request by the Indian Air Force to purchase 10 C-17s, and further interest is rumored among U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, Japan and Pakistan.

The United States Air Force operates more than 190 of the massive jets, and several more are owned by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Qatar and a NATO-led force based in Hungary.

The jets are used primarily to deliver supplies and troops to military bases and aid zones across the world, but can be quickly converted to airlift wounded soldiers and disaster victims.

The C-17's massive cargo space is also used to transport the presidential limousine, and is currently being used to ferry oil booms and cleanup materials to assist in the oil spill devastating the Gulf of Mexico.

Wednesday's vote is scheduled from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the union's hall in Lakewood.

(Kristopher Hanson - Press Telegram)

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