International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union (IAM) leaders at Boeing the aircraft manufacturers are demanding a 40 per cent pay rise over four years for workers across the United States.
Boeing executives have spent the past month grappling with the aftermath of a near-catastrophe on an airborne 737 Max jet which is just the latest crisis tied to manufacturing problems.
Jon Holden, president of IAM District 751, which represents 32,000 Seattle-area Boeing mechanics said: ‘Our goal is to negotiate a contract that we as a union leadership and our members can accept.
‘We don’t take going on strike lightly. But we’re willing to do it.’
Holden said that his members are ready to follow the lead of auto workers in Detroit, writers and actors in Hollywood, California, and fellow machinists at Boeing supplier Spirit AeroSystems Holdings Incorporated in Wichita, Kansas who have taken strike action since the start of this year.
Each emerged from walkouts last year with significant improvements in pay and other contract terms after they took industrial action.
A strike would shut down Boeing plants in Seattle, Washington and Portland in Oregon, including assembly lines for its cow 737 jets, output after the current IAM contract expires in September.
Talks are set to start on March 8th, with Boeing Chief Executive Officer Dave Calhoun over a spate of manufacturing problems — the latest, an issue with holes misdrilled near window fittings.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has stepped up its oversight and capped production increases for the 737 until quality improves.
Despite the failures, Boeing management claimed in a statement: ‘We remain focused on working with our teams to strengthen quality across our operations.
‘We believe there’s a path to a new contract that addresses the needs and concerns of our people while maintaining our ability to compete in the global market.’
For the last ten years workers have only received 1 per cent pay increases, meaning their pay has only increased ten per cent in the last decade despite inflation going up massively even in the last six months.
Since 2014, Boeing has not just had problems with its 737 max fleet but also with the older 737 model and the so called 777 X which was also withdrawn from production for a time duty safety problems.
Boeing also had to shelve plans to produce its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina in 2022, which it had begun assembling.
To force the IAM into contract talks that included freezing pensions, Boeing threatened to take the 777X program out of the Seattle area, inviting states around the US to compete for the factory.
The IAM says that a 40 pay increase is merely pay restoration and that they are also opposing cuts to the fixed-pension plan.
Holden added: ‘The anger that was experienced by our membership, starting in 2013 and 2014, is certainly palpable today.’
‘I hear it any time I’m in a Boeing factory, and from workers all across the spectrum.’
At the current time, as it prepares for the coming talks, Boeing doesn’t have a new plane to use as a bargaining chip. The company has previously said that it does not want to shift production from plants in Seattle, Washington and Portland Oregon to the Southern US where wages tend to be lower as it would mean that it would have to train a largely new workforce.
There is also a fight to unionise workplaces in the South, which is said to have changed their plans.
Boeing last week declined to give a financial outlook for this year, though it held to a target of generating free cash flow of $10 billion in 2025 or 2026, a goal at risk unless it is able to improve its safety record as many airlines are turning away from Boeing.
Parts suppliers who rely on Boeing for orders are also feeling the pressure as they have had to slow down their own production due to the problems at Boeing.
The IAM also wants Boeing to reinstate thousands of quality inspections it suspended in the last decade to cut costs. And Holden plans to press executives to commit to making planes in Seattle for decades.
Boeing says it restored the inspections, and has increased the number of quality inspectors in its commercial division by 20 per cent since 2019.
However that still leaves 35 per cent lower than they were in 2013.
The union is also pushing for the return of defined-benefit pensions, lower out-of-pocket health costs and more flexibility around overtime.
Cliff Collier, a retired former Boeing engineer with decades of aerospace manufacturing experience said: ‘There has been an influx of inexperienced workers and managers, especially since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2019, with experienced staff not being adequately replaced when they retired or left their jobs.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Labour on Monday announced that it has recovered $460,857 (£366,441) in back wages and damages for 104 Houston supermarket employees.
An investigation found that Y.S. Lee Company. Incorporated, which does business at Guanajuato Supermarket, failed to pay their workers overtime wages.
Under the Fair Labour Standards Act, employees covered by the act — generally, non-salaried employees — must be paid time-and-a-half for hours over 40 in a workweek.
Nicole Sellers, district director for the Department of Labour’s wage and hour division said: ‘Employers have a legal obligation to pay workers correctly for all the hours they work.
‘When they fail to do so, they violate the law and face having to pay back wages and liquidated damages to their employees.’
Juan J. Rodriguez, Dallas/Denver deputy regional director in the department’s office of public affairs said: ‘Half of the total sum recovered in this case was back wages and half was liquidated damages.
‘While the department does not typically disclose the reason for specific investigations, we sometimes target investigations to specific businesses, industries and geographic areas.
‘We regularly select certain types of businesses or industries for investigation.
‘We target low-wage industries, for example, because of high rates of violations or egregious violations, the employment of vulnerable workers, or rapid changes in an industry, such as growth or decline.’
He concluded that: ‘In fiscal year 2023, the wage and hour division’s investigations recovered over $19 million in back wages in the state of Texas.
- Sales and merchandise workers at Reyes Coca-Cola have voted 13-1 to join Teamsters Local 665.
The victory comes on the heels of Local 665 successfully organising a group of Pepsi workers in Santa Rosa, California in December last year; the two victories mark a significant expansion of the union’s presence in the Northern California beverage industry.
Tony Delorio, Teamsters Local 665 Secretary-Treasurer said: ‘This victory is a testament to the strength and unity of the people who are responsible for Reyes Coca-Cola’s success.
‘They stood up to unjust changes to their wages and secured a voice in their workplace.’
Interest in the Teamsters Union started when workers recognised significant changes to their pay structure without their input, alterations that were most likely aimed at making them work longer hours at lower rates of pay.
They joined Local 665 after concerted efforts to engage with the company failed to convince management to reverse course on the new policy.
Tom Woods, Local 665 Rep said: ‘When we win a contract at this company, they will never again be able to cut compensation or benefits unilaterally.
‘The workers at Reyes Coca-Cola have shown incredible courage and determination in organising for their rights.
‘We are proud to have been a part of this effort, and this victory sends a powerful message about the importance of fair treatment.’