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No Strike At Boeing

The threat of a walkout at Boeing Co. has been averted for now.

Boeing's largest union said Thursday its members will continue working when their contract expires Sunday at midnight, despite Boeing's refusal to reopen negotiations.

The concession was in response to a request by federal mediators. Boeing said the company has already made its "best and final" offer and employees are welcome to return to work under the terms of the existing contract.

Union members in Washington state, Portland, Ore., and Wichita, Kan., voted Thursday on whether to authorize a strike. But the union said it would not count the ballots for now, pending further instructions from its international headquarters.

The union still considers a strike an option, said Dick Schneider, the machinists' chief negotiator.

The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service on Thursday asked negotiators to meet at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., next Wednesday.

Director Peter Hurtgen also asked the two sides to voluntarily extend the contract and continue talks. The union agreed, but Boeing refused to continue negotiations.

"The Boeing negotiating team has done everything possible and within reason to craft an offer that is fair, competitive and respectful," the company said.

Union members casting votes said they were confused about what to do once the contract expires.

"It's like they're saying, we want to force you to strike," said Sandra Nichols, a janitorial worker for 14 years.

Boeing made its latest contract offer Tuesday for its 25,000 machinists.

Machinists had been seeking to more than double pensions and to secure job guarantees linked to aircraft deliveries, revenues or other business benchmarks. Boeing would have raised pensions by 20 percent by the third year of the contract and included no substantial changes to its job security contract language, inciting union leaders whose membership has been slashed by 25 percent since Sept 11.

The contract also called for changes in employee health care costs, including increases in monthly premiums.

In addition, Boeing offered an 8 percent ratification bonus for accepting the contract, and raises of 2 percent and 2.5 percent in the second and third years of the contract.

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