Friday, September 5, 2008
Unless something crazy happened during the one and a half hours after I wrote this post, approximately 27,000 assembly workers are now striking against Boeing (as of 3:00am). As our previous post and the Washington Post notes, this story, which involves a failed mediation attempt, shows how an employer insisting on cutting back compensation from its employees may be asking for trouble when its stated profits are rising at the same time:
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers were prepared to strike just after 3 a.m. EST, a move that could paralyze Boeing's manufacturing plants as the company is experiencing record profits and working on what the union says is a seven-year backlog of orders.
Angry union negotiators called the strike last night after talks aided by a federal mediator failed to produce an agreement. Union members had voted overwhelmingly to strike Wednesday night but grudgingly agreed to a 48-hour contract extension to try to reach a deal. Most of the workers affected are based at plants in the Seattle area; others work in Gresham, Ore., and in Wichita, Kan. . . .
The strike marks a critical test for organized labor, which has struggled to make gains as competition for labor has expanded across the world, diminishing workers' leverage. But the Boeing electricians, riveters, painters and others are in an unusually strong position because they are skilled laborers working for a company that has been highly profitable in recent years. "This is a case where a union does have significant leverage," said Robert A. Bruno, an associate professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "The employer is very profitable and has the capacity to pay. And they are in a critical industry that you cannot afford to not have functioning."
Boeing officials said their three-year contract offer, which included an 11 percent wage increase and a 3 percent cost of living increase, plus potential bonuses, was generous for workers who earn an average of $56,000 a year before overtime. The union, however, had pressed for more, including a commitment to limit the use of outside contractors. The union also said the company's proposal was riddled with givebacks -- on pensions and the cost of health insurance, for instance -- which infuriated workers who expected more from a company that reported more than $900 million in profit in the last quarter. . . .
It'll be interested to see what happens. As highly skilled workers, the strikers have more leverage than most workers. On the other hand, Boeing isn't exactly known for capitulating for union demands. I remember living in Seattle the year that Boeing managed to tick off its engineers--who aren't usually known for their rabble-rousing unionism--enough to go on strike.