Pensions Loom in Boeing Labor Talks

August 19, 2002 ( - Boeing Company and the machinists' union that represents 25,000 of its workers have brought in a federal mediator after labor talks bogged down on pension issues and job security.

Boeing and the union have been bargaining for more than two weeks with a September 1 deadline looming and have focused on the union’s calls for job security and larger pensions.

Pension Penchant

Boeing has laid off nearly half of its machinists since 1990, and the union is pressing Boeing to promise in a new contract to hire a specific number of machinists based on the company’s revenue or aircraft deliveries.  The demand is unusual but comes in reaction to Boeing’s increased assignment to contractors overseas, rather than hiring back some of the 20,000 workers displaced over the past year.

And since Boeing has laid off so many workers in recent years, the remaining machinists, whose average age is 47 with more than 20 years experience, according to the NY Times, are understandably concerned about their pensions. 

Under the current contract, workers receive a pension of $50 a month multiplied by the number of years worked. The union has proposed raising the monthly multiplier to $120, but union officials say Boeing has flatly rejected their pension proposal.

Another hot topic is healthcare, an item that the aircraft manufacturer has not yet addressed, according to the NY Times report.  Union officials said they expect that Boeing, like a growing number of employers dealing with double-digit increases in health costs, will ask workers to contribute more toward their health coverage, perhaps by having them pay higher premiums.

The machinists represent 19,000 Boeing workers near Seattle; 5,000 in Wichita, Kan.; and 900 in Portland, Ore. The company is scheduled to make its final offer on August 27, and the workers, who earn about $50,000 a year on average, are scheduled to vote two days later.