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Boeing employees vote for possible strike over retirement plans

(photo by Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
Boeing workers count ballots during Sunday's contract vote. Almost 78 percent voted to strike

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – Workers at Boeing's plants in Hazelwood and St. Charles could walk the picket lines as early as June 23rd after the union on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to reject the defense company's contract.

A major sticking point in the four and a half year deal is language that would move new hires to a 401K plan. Almost 78 percent of the members of the International Association of Machinists District 837 voted to give union leadership the right to issue a strike notice.

The bargaining team told Boeing from the beginning that a traditional pension plan was non-negotiable, said union president Gordon King. Members are prepared to stay out of work as long as necessary to get a secure retirement for future employees, he said.

"They went all out," King said, referring to Boeing. "They sent them postcards at their homes, they had all-hands meetings at the company telling them they should support this contract. It's corporate greed when your CEO's are getting bonuses of $1.9 million a year, and the working man out there that's making the profits for them are getting their defined pension take away from them."

Workers at a Boeing plant in California recently approved a contract that includes defined contributions and returned to work after a month-long workout. But that plant, King said, makes only the C-17, a plane with an uncertain future. District 837's 2,500 members also work on the C-17, but do assembly for the F-15, F/A-18, and several missiles as well.

"And all of them are doing real well," King said. "Foreign sales on the F-15, foreign sales on the F-18, we've got the multi-year on the F-18."

A Boeing spokesman, Paul Guse, said the company is disappointed workers rejected a "fair and equitable" deal. In addition to saving Boeing money, Guse said the proposed enhanced 401K could be better for the employees.

"The employee immediately is vested in it, and has the ability to take that pension, that investment with them should they move to other companies, as well as make decisions about how that investment is being made," Guse said. He did not know how much pensions will cost Boeing this year.

King said he is giving the company until Wednesday to present a deal that includes a traditional pension for new hires. After that, he will issue an intent to strike letter, and workers would walk out in a week. Employees last struck the St. Louis plants in 1996.


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