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Mon, Nov 15, 2004

Columnist: Puget Sound Braces For Possible Boeing Strike

New Contract Talks Could Change Thousands Of Lives

The coming year will be a big one for Boeing, its thousands of workers in the Seattle area and for the Puget Sound economy as a whole. Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Bill Virgin writes, if you want to know what next year's negotiations will look like, look back to 2000.

Both the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace will bargain with Boeing for new contracts before the end of 2005.

In 2002, SPEEA accepted a contract with 88-percent approval. IAM members, however, didn't like the company's offer and turned it down. But, because there was no strike authorization, the contract took effect anyway.

In 2002, Boeing had laid off some 26,000 workers. Orders were way down. Airlines were in financial hot water or were going bankrupt. Now, the aerospace giant is hiring again. Projected deliveries are up for both next year and the year after. It's the kind of economic atmosphere both sides will probably feel more comfortable about as talks get underway.

One big difference, according to Virgin: There's a new honcho at Boeing. Harry Stonecipher has taken over for Phil Condit. Stonecipher has a reputation as being not-too-union-friendly. But, in light of the hardships both the company and the unions have faced, there's no clear indication whether Stonecipher will be seen as hard-nosed or will loosen up a little and share the (relative) wealth.

Virgin predicts the top issues in next year's negotiations will be health benefits and job security -- no surprises there. But the entire Pacific Northwest will be keeping an eye on these talks because the economy of the entire region is at stake.



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