BY SCOTT BREEN
SEATTLE - "It's worth it to strike," explained Marilyn Johnson, a member of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at the Auburn Boeing facility. "We worked long and hard for our benefits; we're not going to give them up. "I think we're going to win," she added.
Union members here are gearing up for the November 12 "Mass Rally for Machinists" to support striking members of the IAM who are up against the aerospace giant, Boeing Co. In the final few days before the march, support for the action, called by the International Association of Machinists District Lodge 751, is gaining momentum.
The rally at Everett Memorial Stadium has the backing of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO; the King County, Snohomish County, and Pierce County Labor Councils; and Washington State Jobs with Justice.
John Sweeney, newly elected president of the AFL-CIO, will speak, along with the other top officers of the labor federation. George Kourpias, IAM international president, and others will also be on the platform.
"The strike by 23,500 Machinists at Boeing [in Washington State] is critically important to every wage earner," says a leaflet being distributed by IAM District 751. "The striking Machinists have `drawn a line in the sand' to stop the loss of decent family-wage jobs. Join us to win a New Day for Workers."
The strike began October 6 after union members rejected Boeing's "last and final offer" by a 76 percent majority vote. With some 32,000 production workers represented by the IAM on strike around the country, Boeing's production of aircraft is now virtually nil. According to the union, only a few hundred members are crossing picket lines.
The main issues provoking the strike were company demands to force both workers and retirees to pay more for medical benefits, and inadequate provisions on job security.
Many workers were especially angry when they learned that Boeing wanted them to begin paying for their medical and dental plans, just after Boeing awarded company officials million dollar bonuses. "Its a slap in the face," Johnson said.
The strikers remain determined after the first month of the walkout. Tom, a striker who works at Boeing's giant Everett assembly plant, said, "Solidarity is high right now."
Mike Waters, a toolmaker in the Auburn plant, compared this strike to the 1989 IAM walkout at Boeing. "People are a lot stronger today," he said. "Less people are crossing the picket lines." Another picketer chimed in, "we're more battle-experienced today."
A dangerous chemical spill at Boeing's Auburn facility November 3, which forced the evacuation of 2,000 employees, striking pickets, and area residents, has added to the company's woes. Police closed off traffic in an area 25 blocks east and south of Boeing's buildings.
Company supervisors were transferring nitric hydrofluouric acid, a corrosive cleaner, into a tank when some escaped and vaporized. The resulting orange cloud caused breathing difficulties, burning eyes and throats, nausea, and headaches for more than 100 employees and nearby residents exposed to the toxic cloud. They were taken to area hospitals, and the facility was closed down. Boeing announced immediate plans to reopen it.
Boeing spokesmen tried to downplay the accident, blaming a leaky tank liner and disregarding the possibility that it was the result of work done by supervisors. Trained union members normally do such work. "An awfully big coincidence," one striker told the Militant.
"This accident was unfortunate," Johnson said. "I hope no one is seriously hurt by it. But this is going to happen more often, as supervisors try to do our work" during the strike.
"Russ Young [a Boeing spokesman] didn't look so cocky last night on TV," Redge Newman, a striking machinist who works at Boeing's Renton plant, told the Militant. "He's getting the word that they are going after too much this time." Newman explained that "Boeing has never tried to take away so much. They were surprised by the vote."
Other workers felt like Mike Waters, who said, "Boeing wanted a strike. They definitely wanted us out at least 45 days in order to slide the delivery orders. I feel like I'm a pawn" in Boeing's game.
In many contracts Boeing has with its customers, the company must pay monetary penalties for late deliveries. A clause in those contracts, according to strikers, allows up to a one year delay in delivery of a jet - a delivery "slide" - without penalty if caused by a strike lasting more than 45 days.
One picketer at Everett told the Militant, "The real strike begins after 45 days."
Other activities recently have bolstered the picket lines and strengthened the strike. Some members of the Seattle Professional Engineering Employees Association (SPEEA) are joining the IAM picket lines during lunch breaks or after work. The SPEEA represents 21,000 technical employees who are still working at Boeing. The association has begun negotiations with Boeing on a new contract. The old one expires December 1.
Recently, some 300 motorcycle riders gathered at the Seattle IAM headquarters for a "Solidarity Ride for Striking Machinists!" They caravaned past Seattle picket lines, and then drove 20 miles up Interstate 5 to the IAM pickets in Everett, displaying their support for the strike along the way.
Retirees also join the pickets and help out in the strike headquarters regularly. They hold weekly meetings to discuss ways of supporting the strike and are planning a November 16 retiree march and rally. Boeing had proposed to double the maximum out-of-pocket medical expenses for retirees, to increase their health insurance deductibles, and reduce prescription coverage by 10 percent.
Boeing has also received another setback recently as the regional National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) director ruled against the company in the IAM's complaint. He found that the current dispute has been "an unfair labor practices strike from its inception" on October 6.
Boeing has agreed to meet IAM District Lodge 751 negotiators on November 8 and give them more information about proposed changes to medical and dental coverage. They say, however, that this is not a negotiating session and that they will refuse to release any information about subcontracting and outsourcing.
Scott Breen is a member of IAM Local 289 in Seattle. Chris Rayson, Melissa Harris, Linda Jarvin, Chad Reser, and Bob Bruneau contributed to this article.
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