Boeing Asks Federal Mediator to Resolve Engineers Dispute

Boeing Co. said it asked for federal mediators to help resolve “significant differences” remaining in wage discussions between the world’s largest aerospace company and its engineers union in Seattle.

“We’re really at a critical point in the talks, and it’s better to have a mediator come in sooner than later so no one side gets locked in to their position,” said Doug Alder, a spokesman for Boeing. “We’re concerned about a lack of progress, and we think this is something that could help.”

Boeing reached out to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service as soon as today’s meeting wrapped up with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or Speea, Alder said. The union said today it was disappointed that Boeing negotiators left mid-session and that it’s “willing to consider any option to avoid a work stoppage.”

The planemaker has used non-binding mediation before, including for the last talks with Speea in 2008, Alder said. Those negotiations began while unionized machinists were out on an eight-week strike, their fourth walkout since 1989. Speea has struck at Boeing only twice since its 1946 founding: for one day in 1993 and 40 days in 2000.

Boeing Defense President Dennis Muilenburg said at an investors conference in New York today that the two sides were having “productive discussions” and expected to reach a successful conclusion.

Contract Goal

“Our goal is to get a contract that reflects the value our members bring to the Boeing company,” Ray Goforth, Speea’s executive director, said in an e-mail today.

The 23,000 engineers and technical workers represented by Speea, largely in the Seattle area where Boeing’s commercial headquarters are located, are working without a contract now. Their last agreement expired Oct. 6 and was extended through Nov. 25 after they rejected Boeing’s first offer.

Goforth said Nov. 20 that it was increasingly likely he’d seek strike authorization from members once the extension ran out. The union objects to Boeing’s plan to shrink salary growth and switch new hires into a 401(k)-style retirement program, rather than the current pension plan.

The union has encouraged engineers to refuse voluntary overtime and “work to rule” to slow down the development and deliveries of jets. Boeing is in the midst of boosting production 60 percent in the four years through 2014. Boeing’s engineers not only design new planes, they inspect those being built and sign off on the work before aircraft are delivered.

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