WICHITA, Kan. -- The Boeing Co. and the union that represents technical and professional workers at its Wichita plant have reached an impasse on whether they should even sit down to negotiate a contract until after an upcoming union decertification vote. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace told reporters at a news conference Friday it is postponing contract talks until after an upcoming union decertification vote.
Boeing responded later that day with a letter to the union saying it planned to go ahead with the start of main table negotiations next week as planned and expected both sides to bargain in good faith to reach an agreement. SPEEA had delivered a letter Friday morning notifying Boeing of its intention to wait until after the Feb. 12 decertification election before beginning main table bargaining.
In the letter, the union told the company it did not believe either party could make meaningful progress under the distraction of the election.
Union representatives said negotiation subcommittees will continue to meet and gather data. The current contract, which expires Feb. 19, likely will be extended, the union said.
"We don't want to negotiate on this side of the certification effort because we don't trust the environment," said Charles Bofferding, the union's executive director.
Fred Solis, a spokesman for Boeing in Wichita, said the company was disappointed with the union's decision to postpone the talks.
"We think it is a disservice to employees for them not to have available the outcome of negotiations when they are going to be deciding whether they want to be represented," Solis said.
In a letter advising Bob Brewer, SPEEA's Midwest director, Boeing said it would not agree to delay negotiations. The letter said Boeing planned to enter main table negotiations with the union next week.
"It is not in our employees best interest to delay negotiations, and it is your duty as their exclusive bargaining representative to negotiate on their behalf," the letter, signed by Jeff Clark, the company's director of labor relations, said.
Brewer said the union did not know yet how it would respond.
"He is talking about what is best for employees," Brewer said. "I am not sure the company is in the best position to say what is best for the employees."
At the news conference earlier in the day, Brewer told reporters the company was creating fear in the workplace by intentionally misrepresenting such things as the union's data request this week for performance evaluations.
The union said the process request would not have included any information that would have identified individual employees. The company said it never told employees the request would include such information, as the union contends.
"It is really disappointing on behalf of SPEEA that Boeing managers have taken the stance they have and poisoned the well as far as represented employees here at Boeing in our negotiations efforts," Brewer said.
Boeing said the date for contract talks was agreed to a long time ago, and the negotiations were separate from the decertification effort. The union said the company's chief negotiator cannot focus both on the negotiations and the decertification effort.
"We feel these negotiations are too important -- to the employees, to the careers, to the community and the company -- and so we are not going to allow the Boeing Co. to use our negotiations as a decertification tactic," Bofferding said. "It is too important for everybody."
Union officials said the fact that 43 percent of the represented workers are paid union members bodes well for the success of the upcoming certification election because many others also support the union but are not paid members.
The union said Boeing continues "textbook anti-union activity" as the decertification vote nears, including holding closed door with managers on how to sway employees, spreading misrepresentations and operating an anti-union Web site.
"The company supports the employees' right to choose whom they want to represent them," Solis said. "With an important decision like that we are committed to providing them information so they can make an informed decision."
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