Boeing Machinists Vote on Contract

Thousands of workers who assemble Boeing Co.'s commercial airplanes voted Thursday on whether to approve a new labor contract and return to work after a 4-week-old strike.

Machinists union leaders have recommended that union members accept the revised offer, which improves pension payouts and doesn't increase health care premiums. The Chicago-based company says the total cost of the new offer is similar to the proposal voted down by Machinists on Sept. 2, beginning the strike.

Machinists in the Puget Sound area, Gresham, Ore., and Wichita, Kan., could vote until 6 p.m. local time. If a majority approves the three-year offer, workers could start back to work as early as Thursday night but won't be required to return to work until Oct. 12.

Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for Machinists District Lodge 751, which represents the strikers, said some workers have taken temporary jobs and will need time to finish them.

The strike by about 18,400 employees represented by the Machinists forced Boeing to shut down its commercial airplane plants, and Chief Financial Officer James Bell said more than two dozen airplanes wouldn't be delivered in September because of the strike.

If the strike is resolved Thursday, analysts expect the company to be able to make up for any lost airplane production relatively quickly.

Analysts hadn't expected the strike to immediately push customers to dump Boeing in favor of rival Airbus SAS. But many said it was still important for Boeing to get workers back on the job quickly and regain the company's momentum. Boeing saw a sharp downturn in commercial airplane business following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was forced to lay of thousands of employees, but business has been improving in recent months.

Under the proposed contract, workers would see no changes to current health care premiums, a move union leaders say will save members between $2,000 and $4,000 per year over the rejected offer. That offer increased premiums for workers in response to soaring health care costs nationwide.

The new agreement also increases pension payouts by nearly 17 percent to $70 per month for every year worked. The previous offer increased that figure to $66, from $60 currently.

There is no general wage increase, but workers would receive lump sum payments totaling about $11,000 over the contract's three years. Boeing dropped a plan to offer incentive payments based on whether the company meets or exceeds financial targets.

Boeing shares fell 9 cents to $67.12 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange, but is still near the high end of its 52-week range of $48.10 to $68.38.


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