They began organized picketing immediately afterwards and plan to picket around the clock at all production facilities. As production workers, organized by the International Association of Machinists (IAM), were coming in and out on their normal shift change, many stopped to shake the hand of pickets, express their support, or join the picket line briefly. The IAM, the largest union at Boeing, reached a new contract with the aerospace company last fall that included a "no strike" clause that formally prohibits the IAM from honoring the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) picket lines.
Wes Josaphat, an engineer in galley design, has worked for Boeing for three years, and was picketing outside the Renton plant. "I'm not surprised by all the support we're getting," he said. "The lack of respect they [Boeing] showed us meant we had to walk."
Organized by SPEEA, they struck Boeing one week after rejecting the aerospace giant's "last and final offer." The engineers voted down the contract by 51 percent and the technicians by 61 percent. One central concern was Boeing's refusal to offer guaranteed wage raises for all members. Last December SPEEA members overwhelmingly rejected Boeing's first offer, which included many concessions, by a 98 percent margin. SPEEA represents some 23,000 engineers and technicians, with nearly 14,000 dues-paying members. SPEEA affiliated with the AFL-CIO last fall.
After rejecting Boeing's last offer, a top federal mediator was dispatched from Washington, D.C., to try to work out a deal. The talks failed, foundering on Boeing's intransigence. James Dagnon, Boeing's vice-president of human relations, told reporters the company wasn't prepared to put any more money into its offers to SPEEA.
Boeing then deliberately attacked SPEEA members when it took its last offer from the table, reverting to its original proposals that were soundly rejected in December. A major aspect of that contract was forcing SPEEA members to begin paying for their medical coverage.
This has made it clearer to many Machinists union members that they have a stake in supporting SPEEA's strike. As John Heft, an assembler mechanic in Renton, said as the strikers walked out, "I hope they win. It affects us, too. If they get beaten down, it gives Boeing encouragement to go after us."
Scott Breen is an assembler at Boeing's Renton factory, and a member of IAM Local 751.
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