SPEEA vote due tomorrow

As if the Boeing 787 problems weren’t enough of a headache for the company, the second vote by its engineers will be counted tomorrow on a contract offer.

SPEEA members rejected the first contract offer from Boeing in October with a 96% vote. Boeing subsequently agreed to extend the current SPEEA contract provisions except for all issues related to the pension. The headline issue on this section is that Boeing wants to shift from a defined benefit retirement plan to a defined contribution plan. SPEEA says this results in a 40% reduction in benefits; Boeing says it’s less than that but still significant.

Boeing points out that all non-union employees are on a defined contribution plan and new hires for the unions should be, too. Current members would retain the defined benefit plan.

Boeing hopes this split approach will be enough to win approval for the new contract offer.

Also being voted on: whether members will grant SPEEA negotiations authorization to call a strike should the contract be rejected. Executive Director Ray Goforth has already said negotiators would not call an immediate strike, but they will seek a return to the bargaining table.

[Reuters has this article profiling Goforth.]

The hazard is that Boeing could withdraw its “Best and Final Offer” on all the other issues it agreed to and seek to renegotiate the entire contract rather than just the pension issues. Of course, this would incense union members and make a settlement ultimately that much more difficult.

Boeing needs the engineers to resolve the issues surrounding the 787, and to return the plane to service–the number one priority of 2013, says CEO Jim McNerney. The development programs of the 787-10 and 777X can wait (and, according to our information, these have been pushed to the right as a result of the 787 issues). Management’s lead engineer, Mike Delaney, basically said SPEEA members aren’t needed–that Boeing can rely on other engineers to resolve the 787 problems, a statement that went over like the proverbial screen door in a submarine.

In a webcast for SPEEA, Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, played the patriotic card, according to those who listened to it, by saying a strike would hurt customers and aid Airbus. (Boeing traditionally doesn’t comment on internal employee communications.)

We think the vote will be close, though we don’t know how to define it other than we don’t expect margins to remotely reflect the 96% rejection last October or the 85% rejection by IAM 751 in 2006 (and a similar strike vote). As we’ve talked to people, the sentiment seemed fairly evenly split with a tilt toward rejection and a strike vote.

Unlike IAM 751, which needs a two-thirds vote to strike, SPEEA needs only 50% plus one.

Votes will be counted tomorrow, Feb. 19; results will be known tomorrow night.