In suburban St. Louis nearly 2,600 Boeing workers could walk off the job as early as next month if negotiations between the company and the Machinists union fall through.
Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837 voted 1,167 to 38 Sunday to authorize a strike if a deal for a new contract is not reached by the time the current deal expires May 20.
Detailed contract negotiations begin next week. The company has yet to present the union with its economic package, including its pay proposal.
But machinists are already upset with some key components of the contract, most notably seniority rights.
"We had a pretty fired-up crowd yesterday," said Tom Pinski, a spokesman for the machinists. "The union sees this as the gutting of the seniority rights of membership."
Several calls to Boeing officials were not returned. Spokesman Forrest Gossett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that company officials "look forward to vigorous discussions. And we expect to reach a successful conclusion."
Machinists at Boeing plants in St. Louis County and St. Charles County are part of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, making everything from fighter jets such as the F-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle to missiles and component parts.
Pinski said rising health care costs are a concern among the workers. Boeing also is considering job classification changes that have some workers upset.
But the biggest issue, Pinski said, is seniority rights.
Pinski said the company wants to exempt less-experienced workers from layoffs if they have skills deemed essential to production. The machinists want layoffs based strictly on seniority.
"They see it as a definite attack on the seniority rights we've had here basically since 1941 when they organized the old McDonnell Aircraft Company," Pinski said.
Boeing purchased its former rival McDonnell Douglas in 1997. That was a year after the most recent strike at the facilities. Machinists walked off the job for 99 days in 1996.
Pinski said workers will vote May 20 on the company's contract proposal. If it is rejected, another vote will take place immediately to consider a strike. The strike vote would need two-thirds majority.
If the strike vote is approved, the company would be given a minimum of seven days' notice before an actual walkout occurred.
"In today's environment, it's more like, if we're going to do it, let's get it done," Pinski said.
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