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Tentative agreement with IAM contains few gains
"Vote no on Boeing deal"

By Darrin Hoop and Lee Sustar | September 30, 2005 | Page 11

A TENTATIVE deal to end the strike at Boeing Co. is being opposed by rank-and-file activists for its failure to significantly improve pensions, include a general wage increase or improve job security.

Under the deal--which is recommended for ratification by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) leadership--Boeing would pay workers $70 per year of service upon retirement, a small improvement over the company's previous offer of $66.

To obtain a "yes" vote, management is dangling an immediate bonus worth 8 percent of a year's pay for the first year of the three-year deal. Lump-sum payments of $3,000 are to follow in each of the following two years--but as bonuses, they won't be included as base pay for future wages.

"They are trying to buy us off with instant gratification," said David Clay, a jig builder at Boeing's Everett, Wash., plant and a longtime union activist in IAM District 751. "They're trying to divide the membership by giving the bonus to the younger workers and not putting enough into the pensions. The long term improvements aren't there."

According to Don Grinde, a crane operator at the Everett plant and another veteran union activist, an estimated $11,000 in bonus money could fund a pension benefit of $76 per year of service. If the deal were to include the typical 2.5 percent general wage increase and implement an auxiliary IAM-controlled pension plan, future retirees could have a combined benefit of $184 per year of service, according to Grinde's calculations.

"My vote is a 'No' vote," Grinde wrote to Socialist Worker. "The company keeps trying to buy us off with bogus bonus money. This is not the contract that we should have at this crucial time. We need to bump the Boeing pension plan to $80 and we need to start the IAM pension plan."

Boeing did drop its demands for massive cuts in health care coverage. Those proposals would have forced members to pay between $2,000 and $4,000 out of their own pockets for health care--and would have eliminated retiree health care entirely for new hires.

But in Grinde's view, such harsh demands were a negotiating tactic to pressure union members to accept what is still a poor agreement. Boeing, which is facing a long-term surge in orders for new airliners, overplayed its hand and had to back down--but it has still come out ahead on crucial issues.

"There's no commitment on job security," Grinde noted. "There's nothing in there. Boeing will still be able to eliminate work. There's still potential for thousands of more jobs to be lost."

The lack of a general wage increase could cost Boeing workers $25,000 to $30,000 in the next 15 years, he estimated. "The bogus bonus is a one-time gift versus money forever," he wrote.

Keith Thomas, a retired union activist at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kans., that was sold off to the Canadian company Onex earlier this year, criticized IAM leaders' bargaining strategy to achieve the tentative agreement. "Most of [the IAM officials'] 'achievements' are once again measured in terms of what they didn't lose," he wrote in an e-mail message to union activists.

"The rank and file received in essence a wage freeze, along with lump sum offers that gave the company a huge cash savings for the life of the contract. The IAM leadership negotiated some contract language improvements but in the past the company has either ignored the language or worked around it to achieve their ends. The IAM has proved beyond the shadow of doubt that they can't negotiate security. So really their achievements in contract language improvements have to be considered minimal since they will end up fighting with the company."

Clay, Grinde and other District 751 activists plan to leaflet the contract ratification vote scheduled for September 29. "We're saying to our coworkers: Wake up and look at our options," Grinde wrote.

"Boeing is getting off way too cheap. Vote no. We can do better. I'm proud of our members, but we need to stick together."

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