Boeing, Union Reach Tentative Agreement

SEATTLE (AP) -- Workers and management at Boeing Co.'s commercial airplane division hammered out a tentative agreement that could allow the airline giant to resume production quickly.

Thousands of machinists will vote Thursday on whether to approve the new three-year deal, providing a potential end to a three-week strike. Approval would let Boeing immediately make airplanes again.

The union's leadership urged its 18,400 members to accept the agreement, saying it will address key issues including health care premiums and pension payouts.

''I'm just proud of our membership,'' Mark Blondin, district president for Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle, said Sunday. ''They stood solid, unified, and that solidarity is what finally got the company to do the right thing.''

Boeing spokesman Charles Bickers said the company believes the deal is a fair compromise that puts more emphasis on things that matter to workers.

''The total cost to Boeing is similar to the previous contract offer and meets our definition of a reasonable settlement,'' Alan Mulally, the head of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, said in a statement.

Blondin said the deal calls for Boeing to make no changes to its current health care plan _ despite huge increases in health care costs nationwide. That's a major change from the premium and other increases Boeing previously demanded.

The agreement increases pension payouts for union members to $70 per month for every year served, up from $60 currently. The previous offer was $66.

The company also has agreed to continue offering retiree medical benefits for new hires, Blondin said. The previous offer called for taking that perk away from future employees.

If the agreement is ratified, Blondin said workers will receive an 8 percent signing bonus -- or about $5,000. They also will receive $3,000 payouts in the second and third years of the contract. There is no general wage increase.

But the workers no longer will be offered participation in an incentive pay program that would provide five days of pay if the company meets financial targets and up to 15 days' worth if the targets are exceeded. That was in the previous offer.

The terms are the same for workers in the Puget Sound area; Gresham, Ore.; and Wichita, Kan. In the previous offer, some terms were less for Wichita workers.

About 18,400 Machinists who assemble Boeing's commercial airplanes and some key components walked off the job on Sept. 2, forcing the Chicago-based company to immediately stop production. Boeing Chief Financial Officer James Bell had earlier said the strike could result in more than two dozen airplanes not reaching customers this month, although analysts said a strike lasting a month or less would likely not result in serious problems for Boeing.

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