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AFL-CIO Backs Boeing Strikers

AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka joined Boeing workers on the picket line Tuesday in Seattle. He told CBS affiliate KIRO Radio that the labor organization give financial support to the strikers.

Trumka said his organization will give the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) $50,000, plus an additional $25,000 per week until the strike is over.

"We feel these engineers have earned the right to be treated as partners, not as property, by Boeing," Trumka said prior to a union rally Tuesday night at the Seattle Center.

In addition, other unions have started donating to SPEEA, which did not have a strike fund when workers walked off the job Feb. 9. The Communications Workers of America has pledged $25,000 per week for the duration of the strike, while the International Union of Electrical Workers and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees each made a one-time donation of $25,000.

The funds will be used to help offset financial burdens on striking workers, most of whom have not received a paycheck since Feb. 24. Workers will be able to draw on the new strike fund to pay up to one-third of their mortgage and utility costs, union officials said.

The union represents about 22,200 Boeing employees, mostly in Washington State, but also in Kansas, California, Florida, Oregon, Texas and Utah. About 63 percent are dues paying union members.

SPEEA workers are locked in a contract dispute with Boeing over guaranteed raises and increased costs for medical benefits. Boeing declared an impasse in negotiations last week and imposed wage increases from its last offer over the weekend. SPEEA is protesting the declaration, and has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The union dismissed the action as an attempt to get workers to cross picket lines. "We're not coming back until they sit down at the table with us and negotiate this contract," said Tom McCarty, a member of the engineering negotiating team.

White-collar unions like SPEEA have received increased attention from the labor movement as the work force shifts more towards professional and technical jobs not traditionally covered by blue-collar unions.

Trumka said a successful strike against Boeing could spark even more white-collar workers to organize.

In addition to monetary help, the AFL-CIO will help with organization and research, and will urge its subsidiary unions to donate to SPEEA.

The union is seeking more guaranteed pay raises and bonuses, like those received by production workers represented by the Machinists, Boeing's largest union.

Boeing officials said as of March 6, employees would receive pay raises specified for the first year of the company's Feb. 26 contract offer. Technical workers will get a guaranteed minimum two percent wage increase, with a pool representing a three percent additional increase to be doled out selectively.

The contract offer dos not guarantee engineers an increase in the first year. Performance-based raises will be granted from a fund totaling a five- percent increase, with another 1 percent for those about to be promoted.

An additional two percent increase was set aside for engineers in critical skills areas such as software development and electrical engineering, Boeing spokesman Peter Conte said.

"We are implementing the last, best offer we made to our team because it's time to move forward," Mulally said.

The company will not impose other parts of the offer, however, including reductions in life insurance benefits and some changes in health insurance.

In Cape Canaveral, Fla., four Boeing electrical engineers walked off the job last week to join other striking workers. Their decision meant all 10 SPEEA-represented people stopped work on the launch of a $1 billion defense satellite scheduled for April 9.

At least 40 union members have quit the company for new jobs since the strike began, according to SPEEA. The union has urged workers not to quit at least not until the strike is resolved.

The company delivered 27 aircraft to customers in February, falling short of the 42 planes scheduled for delivery, Mulally said Sunday. The company had delivered 47 planes in February 1999 and 33 in January, before the strike began.

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