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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Boeing workers out on strike in California

Associated Press

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Boeing workers in Long Beach, Calif., want a larger pension and oppose a hike in employee health contribution costs.

DAMIAN DOVARGANES | Associated Press

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LONG BEACH, Calif. Boeing Co. workers who assemble C-17 planes went on strike yesterday, shutting down the production line for the jumbo cargo jets in a feud over medical and pension benefits.

Nearly all of the 1,700 unionized mechanics at Boeing's Long Beach plant heeded the strike call, but about 3,000 non-union workers continued in jobs ranging from engineering to supply and sales, Boeing spokeswoman Cindy Anderson said.

The Chicago-based company shut down the C-17 production line indefinitely.

Anderson said the strike has not affected C-17 operations, such as parts supply and manufacture, that employ thousands of people in 44 states.

Such suppliers have "a long lead time" and their operations haven't been disrupted yet, but "everybody's anxious to get the workers back to work," Anderson said.

The strike was called nearly a week after negotiations failed to bridge a gap between Boeing and negotiators from United Auto Workers Local 148.

Boeing offered wage and pension increases, but the union wants a larger pension and opposes an increase in employee health contribution costs near the contract's expiration in early 2014.

Union members picketed yesterday, arguing that the contract was unworthy of a highly trained workforce that helped Boeing post a $1.31 billion profit last year.

They also complained about how much Boeing CEO Jim McNerney is paid. McNerney received cash and other compensation last year worth $13.7 million, according to an Associated Press analysis of the company's proxy statement.

"They're not trimming his wages but they want to trim them for the people that put the plane together," said Art Faffell, a jig builder who has been at the Long Beach plant for a quarter-century.

"I'm grateful to have the job but I don't feel we're lucky (to have one)," he said.

"We're making this company billions of dollars through our skills and our talents."

Boeing's latest offer included a lump sum of $4,000 for each worker in the first year, a wage increase of about 3.4 percent over the life of the agreement, and an increase in the basic pension benefit to $79 per month for each year of service, from $70.

But Boeing wants to raise the level of each employee's contribution for health coverage to 15 percent of the cost from 12 percent beginning in January 2014, more than 44 months into the 46 month contract.

Boeing officials argue that employees' increased health care costs come from inflation in medical costs, not changes to the plan. The increase in pay is 30 times more than the increase in costs, they said in a statement.