The ballots, which are due by 5 p.m., include a measure that could give union negotiators the authority to call a strike. Results are expected to be announced within hours of that deadline.
Leaders of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace have urged members to reject Boeing's contract offer and approve the strike sanction. However, SPEEA negotiators say they won't call for a work stoppage without giving Boeing another shot at meeting union demands.
Ray Conner, president of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, recently appealed to engineers and technical workers to ratify the Chicago-based company's offer.
"Nobody wins in a strike," Conner wrote in a Feb. 7 message. "It's important that we protect our competitiveness in the long-run, even if that means some short-term pain."
Boeing is experiencing some pain of sorts itself with the grounding of all 787s. On Jan. 16, the Federal Aviation Administration curtailed commercial flights after two Dreamliner aircraft experienced battery troubles. The company is depending on the engineers and technical workers who helped develop the Dreamliner and troubleshot the 787's earlier problems to again get the jet back in the air.
"It was your innovation, talent and skill that brought the 787 Dreamliner to life," Conner wrote. "Now more than ever, we need to deliver on those promises by coming together as one team."
The day after the FAA grounded the 787, Boeing agreed to SPEEA's request to roll over the union's 2008 contract provisions with one major exception: The company would not keep union members hired after Feb. 28 on Boeing's pension plan. The new employees would be enrolled in a 401(k) retirement program instead under the company's offer.
Overall, that new plan is "a significant cut in the retirement contribution," Ray Goforth, SPEEA's executive director, said in a video message to members. "If this contract is adopted ... we're going to have people sitting in cubicles next to each other with drastically different compensation for doing the same job."
Ultimately, SPEEA leaders say, this would divide the union's membership. They believe the company will freeze future pension contributions when more SPEEA members are on the new plan than existing one.
SPEEA members were asked to vote both on the contract and strike authorization during a two-week period that ends today. Either measure passes with a simple majority of votes.
Michelle Dunlop: 425-339-3453; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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