Boeing and engineers at loggerheads over new contract

Washington DC
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Boeing has responded to a string of criticisms from its engineering union as the two sides remained dead-locked in contract talks less than a month before the current agreement expires.

In an attempt to calm the situation, Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Aircraft, sent an email on 12 September to all employees praising the company's 23,000 engineers. "We can't build airplanes without engineers and techs," Conner wrote.

Conner said that "some" have suggested he is not supportive of this work group, but "that's just plain wrong".

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) has been publicly critical of Boeing's management since June for the slow progress of contract negotiations.

The union's deal with Boeing expires on 6 October. SPEEA submitted a full proposal to management negotiators in June, but complains it has yet to see a full package of proposals from Boeing.

In recent days, SPEEA's criticisms of Boeing's treatment of its engineers has become more pointed. On the union's Facebook page, SPEEA accused Boeing of reducing funding for 777X development in order to fund higher dividends for shareholders in the last financial quarter.

"That isn't true," Boeing says in response. "In fact, our commitment to the 777X remains stronger than ever."

The public tone of the contract talks between SPEEA and Boeing are a sharp break from the company's previous labour breakthrough. Late last year, Boeing management secretly negotiated a new contract with the International Association Machinists (IAM), a group that shut down production for several months to go on strike in 2008.

"The future is ours for the taking, but we must perform," Conner wrote in the email to employees. "I recognise it's a tough assignment, but I know we can do it."