St. Louis – Union machinists at Boeing plants in St. Louis reversed course Sunday and voted to accept the company's latest contract offer.
The decision averts a strike by about 2,500 defense workers that would have started Monday morning.
Despite a recommendation to reject from union officials, nearly 60 percent of employees voted in favor of the contract.
The company offered concessions on medical coverage. But they didn't budge on retirement plans, which had been the sticking point. For workers hired starting in 2012, Boeing will replace traditional pensions with enhanced 401(k) plans.
Employee Spencer Sessie doesn't like that, but voted for the contract anyway. Sessie said a strike wouldn't be worth it.
"Why go out for two or three weeks or two or three months and come back for less?" Sessie said Sunday. "I think people did the right thing today."
While the pension changes do not directly affect current workers or retirees, union organizer Homer Clawson fears what might happen to his pension in future contracts.
"These people just sold out their soul to the devil just to get a paycheck every week," Clawson said. "The future just died today."
That's a fear shared by Gordon King, the president of the International of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 837. But after Sunday's vote, he said many workers were afraid to strike amid a bad economy. King also said Boeing management intensively lobbied the rank and file.
"The company worked their butt off with our membership, as far as putting things over their e-mails at work, and had their foremen out in the shop telling them to vote for this contract," King said.
Paul Guse, a Boeing spokesman, said the company has no plans to change pension plans for current workers and retirees.
"Not only is there no intention to diminish the pensions of our people," Guse said. "But we are on a course of significantly increasing the retirement contributions for our employees."
Boeing employees at plants in Hazelwood and St. Charles build F-15, F/A-18 Super Hornet and E/A-18 fighter jets as well as parts for the C-17 cargo plane and other military hardware.