Boeing faces morale challenges as union fails to strike

Sunday, September 15, 2002

RENTON, Wash. -- If voting had turned out just a little differently, Mike Bonner would have been holding a strike sign Saturday instead of a bag full of shirts bearing The Boeing Co. logo.

Bonner, an inspector at the aerospace company's commercial-jet factory factory here, was shopping at a company store sale during a break from work.

It wasn't how the 17-year employee had planned to spend his weekend. Like the majority of his fellow Machinists union members in Washington state, Wichita, Kan., and Portland, Ore., he voted Friday to reject a contract offer from Boeing and strike immediately.

The majority doesn't always rule, however. Under union bylaws, a contract is accepted if less than two-thirds of the membership votes to strike. The contract was rejected by 62 percent, not enough to authorize a walkout.

So Bonner was back at work, knowing a contract he couldn't support will be the rule for the next three years.

"I'm disappointed," he said. "But ... there's nothing you can do."

It will be tricky for Boeing management to smooth over relations with its largest union.

Many Machinists complained that the provisions they pushed for the hardest, such as job security, were among the most ignored. Their ranks were already decimated by thousands of layoffs in the past year alone, and the Machinists' 25,000 members at Boeing fear they could face even leaner times.

Machinists at Boeing's Wichita plant scraped together enough votes to strike, but were outvoted by the union's total membership. Union officials did not disclose how the Portland membership voted.

"Just going back to work is going to be hard," said union steward Russell Walker after leaving the Wichita meeting.

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