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Published: Sunday, 11/2/2008

Boeing goes back to work

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SEATTLE Factories at Boeing Co. were to start humming again Sunday night after Machinists union members voted to end a costly eight-week strike that clipped profits and stalled deliveries by the world s No. 2 commercial airplane maker.

Workers walked out Sept. 6, and the strike cost an estimated $100 million a day in deferred revenue and production delays on the company s highly anticipated next-generation passenger jet.

Machinists union members ended their walkout on Saturday by ratifying a new contract with Boeing. Members of the union, which represents about 27,000 workers at plants in Washington state, Oregon, and Kansas, voted about 74 percent in favor of the proposal five days after the two sides tentatively agreed to the deal and union leaders recommended its approval.

The union has said the contract protects more than 5,000 factory jobs, prevents the outsourcing of certain positions, and preserves health care benefits. It also promises pay increases over four years rather than three, as outlined in earlier offers.

The union members, including electricians, painters, mechanics, and other production workers, have lost an average of about $7,000 in base pay since the strike began. They had rejected earlier proposals by the company.

It was the union s fourth strike against Boeing in two decades and its longest since 1995. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers staged strikes against Boeing for 24 days in 2005, 69 days in 1995, and 48 days in 1989.

The walkout came amid surging demand for Boeing s commercial jetliners, which include 737s, 747s, 767s, and 777s.

Chicago-based Boeing, which ranks as the world s second-largest commercial airplane maker after Europe s Airbus, has said its order backlog has swollen to a record $349 billion in value.

The strike also further postponed the delivery of Boeing s long-awaited 787 jetliner, which has already been delayed three times, and other commercial planes.

It remains unclear how long it would take Boeing s commercial aircraft business to return to prestrike production levels, but the company s chief financial officer, James Bell, has said Boeing hopes it would take less than two months.

The walkout started as the global economy began sinking into turmoil. Boeing executives have said only 10 percent of the company s orders come from domestic carriers, while the rest are placed by customers in other parts of the world, particularly Asia.

As the machinists strike wore on, Boeing began talks with another union in hopes of avoiding a second strike by 21,000 scientists, engineers, manual writers, technicians and other hourly workers.

Boeing officials and representatives of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which struck for 40 days in 2000, moved into the final phase of contract talks Wednesday. The union s two current contracts expire Dec. 1.

Negotiators at a hotel outside Seattle say they hope to present a proposal to that union s membership by mid-November.



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