Boeing workers appeared to be on the verge of strike action late last week after a last-minute move by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to extend contract negotiations was badly received by the manufacturer.

On 29 August, when the protracted talks resulted in employees voting on Boeing's latest contract offer and strike action, Boeing and the IAM received a request from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) to restart talks in Washington DC on 4 September. The IAM, which invited the FMCS to intervene, has agreed to the request, and says that the votes taken on 29 August will not be counted until the talks have been completed.

Boeing says it is unlikely to agree to the request for further talks, but will meet mediators. Boeing vice-president of human resources Jerry Calhoun says: "We have concluded negotiations and there is nothing left to bargain over."

The IAM motion has "tainted" the vote, says Boeing. According to Calhoun, the IAM decision "undermines the integrity of the collective bargaining process, and denies IAM-represented employees the right to exercise their vote". He urged the union to make the results of the ballot public.

The contract talks cover 26,000 machinists at Boeing Commercial Airplanes' sites at Puget Sound, Washington; Wichita, Kansas and Portland, Oregon. A further 20,000 employees not covered by the bargaining are "potentially susceptible to the effects of a shutdown" in the event of a strike, says Calhoun. Any action would immediately close Boeing's major commercial final assembly and manufacturing sites around Seattle and supporting sites in Wichita and Portland.

Boeing has offered to increase pensions by up to 20% as well as meet IAM demands for modest pay increases. But it has rejected union calls for job security to be aligned with production rates. Calhoun says Boeing's situation "is going to get worse", and that employees should accept the terms while they can.

Source: Flight International