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On the picket line

December 13, 2002 | Page 15


By Darrin Hoop

SEATTLE--The 24,000 members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) passed by an 88 percent margin a three-year contract with Boeing Co.

The contract has two separate parts, one for professionals or engineers and one for the technical workers. Both the engineers and technical workers won higher minimum monthly pension pay, a 6 percent bonus after ratification and a new Boeing-paid short-term disability plan.

However, the wage increases are less than the last contract. Boeing is offering a 4 percent wage increase for both units, but only 1.5 percent of this is guaranteed each year to engineers and only 2 percent is guaranteed to technical workers. The rest is up to the managers' discretion.

The union also agreed to an increase in members' health care premiums, and the contract contains none of the job-security language that the union had wanted--such as a lay-off moratorium or early retirement options.

"Boeing is salivating at the prospect of outsourcing engineering work," said a six-year Boeing engineer. Since the September 11 attacks, more than 25,000 Boeing jobs have been cut--16,000 in the Puget Sound region--and another 6,500 more are slated to be cut next year.

Dave Landress, chairman of SPEEA's technical negotiating team, defends the agreement. "We believe these proposals are the best we could secure in the current environment," he said.

But in February 2000, the members of SPEEA took part in a 40-day strike that was the longest and largest strike by white-collar union workers in U.S. history. By striking, SPEEA won higher guaranteed wages, and there were no benefit takeaways.

The key to the strike was solidarity. While SPEEA represented only 63 percent of engineers and technical workers, nearly 90 percent walked off the job. In addition, members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) refused to perform the work of SPEEA members during the strike. UPS and Airborne drivers, who are members of the Teamsters, honored the picket lines.

Boeing workers have been pressured by the miserable state of the airline industry. Boeing's jet production is slated to fall from 527 jets in 2001 to 275 in 2003. "The people have had their head in the sand," one Boeing engineer said. "The inability to get job security language is because people aren't facing up to it. They're not thinking, 'In three years I might not have a job.' There are a few engineers who think about it, but we aren't organized enough."

In the future, it will take a replay of the solidarity shown in the 2000 strike to win better contracts.

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AFSCME Local 768

By Thomas Barton

NEW YORK--As a bitterly contested run-off election nears for health care workers in AFSCME Local 768, Mayor Michael Bloomberg started firing city workers this week. He's also demanding that city employee unions give up benefits won decades ago.

The $600 million in givebacks include upping the workweek from 35 to 40 hours, cuts in sick and vacation time and higher paycheck deductions for pensions. And he wants city workers to start paying for their own health care.

Layoffs have already started--with more promised if the new AFSCME contract, covering 125,000 city workers, doesn't give Bloomberg what he wants. At the Department of Education alone, 380 workers will lose their jobs January 2. The AFSCME contract expired June 30--and along with it the "no-layoff" protection in the old contract.

The election fight inside Local 768, with its 4,000 members, reflects the broader crisis. Local 768 is one of the last big District Council 37 unions still run by the old guard formerly loyal to the disgraced and ousted union chief Stanley Hill--but a Local 768 reform slate headed by Fitz Reid has come out swinging. They pledge to fight layoffs or givebacks and to campaign against the Taylor laws that forbid city workers to strike.

Unlike the "reformers" who stuffed their own pockets after Hill was kicked out, the Reid slate also pledge that they won't take one cent more as union officers than they earned on the job. And if the workers that they represent don't get a raise, neither will they. They also promise to resign if a majority votes to recall them.

In the December 2 election, the old guard got a minority of the votes, but two splinter candidates took enough votes to force a run-off between Reid and the old guard.

In the past 25 years, the corporate income tax as a share of New York State's tax revenues has been cut 60 percent. AFSCME leaders publicly admit that in good times the bosses in city government cut taxes on corporations and the rich and in bad times lay off workers and cut benefits. But so far they refuse to organize to fight--instead babbling about how they and the city bosses are "partners."

Of course, AFSCME union leaders don't have to worry about cuts to their pay, which exceeds $200,000 a year for some. If sacrifice is necessary, it's time they get their taste of it. We've had our share already.

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