SEATTLE (Reuter) - Boeing Co. and its biggest union have reached a tentative agreement on a 45-month contract that could end a two-month strike affecting more than 32,000 workers, officials of both sides said Monday.
Members of the Machinists union, who rejected the previous contract offer of Nov. 21, will vote on the new proposal Wednesday and could begin returning to work the following day.
The latest deal, which includes a lump-sum payment to workers equal to 10 percent of their annual base salary, was reached after six days of intensive talks
supervised by a federal mediator. "While neither the company nor the union achieved all of their objectives, this proposal balances the interests of employees and shareholders while providing the opportunity for each of us to continue meeting customer expectations," Boeing Chairman Frank Shrontz said in a statement.
Workers walked off the job Oct. 6 in Washington, Oregon and Kansas after rejecting a three-year contract offer in a dispute mainly over health care benefits and job
security. Workers were angered by a contract they considered insulting after watching Boeing slash its work force from to 105,000 from a peak of 166,000 in 1989 in response to shrinking airline orders and growing competition from Europe's Airbus Industrie.
With Boeing maintaining its profitability and the company's stock at record levels in anticipation of an upturn in orders, workers expected to share in the benefits of the long period of cutbacks.
After workers rejected the second offer despite the recommendation of union leaders, talks were restarted last week after a series of phone call between Shrontz and machinists international President George Kourpias, who spoke by telephone again Sunday night before the final details of the proposal were hammered out.
In addition to the 10 percent initial lump sum up from 5 percent in previous proposals -- Boeing is offering workers a 4.5 percent bonus in the second year of the pact and 3 percent wage increases in the third and fourth years. The contract would expire Sept. 1, 1999.
Machinists at Boeing currently make slightly more than $20 an hour on average.
On health care, the contract offers union members the chance to continue enjoying benefits of the company's top medical plan without paying premiums.
However after 31 months, premiums of up to $10 a month per individual or $30 per family could be imposed depending on how the plan's costs stack up against medical inflation nationally.
Union members also are being offered payments of $1,200 over three years if they instead participate in an optional managed health care plan.
Boeing also made several concessions on subcontracting, including offering any worker affected by work sent elsewhere the right to be retrained and transferred to another available job in the company.
Officials of both sides predicted the contract would be approved.
"This is a slam dunk on all the major issues that people have been talking about," said Matt Bates, a union spokesman.
The Machinists last struck Boeing in 1989 during a period of record production when the main issue was forced overtime.