Boeing's largest union confirms the submittal of its first detailed counter-offer for a new contract will come within a few days, and the group leaders remain "optimistic" a strike can be avoided.

The International Association of Machinists (IAM), which enters a final, two-week round of talks with Boeing on Thursday, is preparing an "aggressive proposal on pensions, general wage increases in every year and to improve [career] progression systems," says Tom Wroblewski, IAM district president.

The distance between the proposals from the two sides is still "too early to tell", he adds.

Although the vast majority of Boeing's IAM union members are ready to strike, there is room for hope that a work stoppage within two months of the 787 programme's scheduled first flight can be avoided.

In an interview, Wroblewski repeatedly praised the tone and content of discussions so far between union negotiators and Boeing executives, including Labour Relations VP Doug Kite and Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Scott Carson.

"To be positive about it, there is dialogue going on," Wroblewski says. "That we haven't had in the previous negotiators for the company. The company just needs to come to the table with serious proposals."

A troubling sign, however, is the failure of both sides to agree on all non-economic issues before entering the final phase of negotiations, a key goal at the outset of main table negotiations in May.

"We should have had a lot more progress than what we did considering we started [main table] negotiations a month early," Wroblewski says.

Boeing and the union also stand far apart on the one economic issue where each has taken a stand. Boeing has proposed raised minimum hourly pay by $1.28 and the union has countered with $4.50.

In addition to pressing for across the board salary increases, the union also plans to fight Boeing's proposals to eliminate retiree medical benefits and pensions for new-hires.

IAM officials also will not tolerate extending the deadline for voting on the new contract. That vote is scheduled to take place on 3 September, the same day the current contract expires.

"After we don't have a contract," Wroblewski says, "and we won't work without a contract."

Source: Air Transport Intelligence news