Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Dec. 28, 1995 issue of Workers World newspaper
Having outlasted the company with a 69-day strike, members of the Machinists union cheered in a new contract with Boeing Inc. on Dec. 13. The agreement was ratified by 87 percent of those voting.
The strike by 34,500 workers ended in victory, especially when considered in the light of the forces arrayed against the strikers. The workers were up against not only the world's biggest aerospace company, but by extension against the whole military-industrial complex.
They faced an assault on their union rights and job security of the same sort that has resulted in setbacks for many unions over the last 15 years. In this case, however, the circumstances of the strike provided an opportunity for the workers to push back the harshest aspects of the Boeing bosses' attack.
The workers and their union emerged from the struggle intact, strong and united.
The union did make some concessions to the company. But the Machinists beat back most of Boeing's take-backs and made some new gains for the workers.
Boeing head Frank Shrontz conceded, "I guess I would have to say I, at least, underestimated the depth of the feeling [of the workers]."
The Machinists waged a strong, aggressive strike. From early October, when 2,000 workers marched through the Everett, Wash., plant and tore up Boeing's take-back contract in front of management, through Nov. 21, when workers turned the tables on the company by rejecting its second contract offer--there was no let-up in the workers' militancy.
They picketed 69 days in almost non-stop rainstorms and sacrificed $6,000 per worker in wages.
The union won job-security language pledging that any worker affected by sub-contracting will be reassigned or retrained for available work inside Boeing. Workers laid off due to subcontracting will receive 26 weeks' severance pay and three months' benefits coverage.
Job security was crucial to workers, who have seen 50,000 of their co-workers laid off in the 1990s. The job-security language is the strongest in the aerospace industry and fairly advanced for U.S. industry.
It's a big gain over Boeing's two previous job-security offers. But many workers say they don't trust the company's pledge.
The contract did open the door for the workers to start paying for their medical insurance. But Boeing's scheme to make the workers start paying for medical insurance right away was delayed.
Workers under the Boeing Medical Plan will begin making co-payments of $10 to $30 per month in July 1998 if the costs of the plan exceed the national average. But there will be no employee contributions for coverage under optional medical plans. Also, workers switching to managed- health-care plans will be given cash incentives.
Boeing canceled its threatened cuts to the retirees' medical plan, and increased pensions $35 to $40 per month.
Workers will receive a 10-percent first-year bonus Dec. 22, up from 5 percent in the original offer. There will be a 4.5-percent bonus in the second year, up from 3 percent in the first offer, and a 3-percent general wage increase in the third and fourth years of the contract.
They also received cost-of-living increases. But the company got a four-year contract instead of the usual three years.
The contract should bolster the 20,000-member Seattle Professional Engineering Employees union in its current contract talks with Boeing.
The strike cut deeply into company profits. Boeing was to deliver 65 planes in the fourth quarter. It only shipped out 30, because of the strike.
The pressure was therefore on the company. Even now that the strike is over, 1996 profits for the country's biggest exporter are expected to be flat.
The Machinists generally thought they made gains against the company. But despite the modest advances in the contract, many workers go back still very angry at the company.
It remains to be seen whether the workers will allow Boeing to achieve the "union-management cooperation" it seeks to increase productivity.
The Machinists made a remarkable comeback at a time of labor setbacks and after losing tens of thousands of members. The rank and file basically led the strike, which infused the walkout with particular vigor and vibrancy.
The contract was approved only one day before Shrontz was to receive a "Man of the Year" award from business executives in Seattle's posh Four Seasons Hotel. Thousands of Machinists and other unionists had prepared to be there in protest; the action was called off after the contract settlement.
"Boeing dodged a bullet on this one," said Jonathan Rosenblum, coordinator of Jobs with Justice.
Boeing was also preparing to face a Dec. 19 hearing on four Unfair Labor Practice charges. The union dropped the case once the contract was signed.
Much remains to be done in enforcing this contract and organizing the unorganized, especially women clerical workers, at Boeing. But all sides agree that labor won this one.
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