Long Beach workers on strike against Boeing

Union aircraft assembly workers at Boeing’s C-17 plant in Long Beach, Calif., are on strike today, saying they’re fed up with the company’s attempts to slash health care benefits and increase costs for retirees.

The strike started just after midnight this morning, after 79.5 percent of the United Auto Workers members voting had rejected Boeing’s proposed four-year contract offer on May 4. The union’s negotiating committee had recommended that workers reject the deal, and the union’s 1,700 members had picketed outside the plant last week in a show of solidarity.

“We grew old in this company together,” UAW Local 148 leaders told their members last week. “We had parents, grandparents, aunts … (who) have dedicated their lives to this company. We are the ones (who) worked unlimited overtime whenever necessary to keep this program afloat. … We deserve better.”

Proposals by management to significantly raise the cost of health insurance for workers were a major factor driving union workers to strike — much as it was when District 751 walked out against Boeing in 2005 and 2008.

“If this is the kind of contract that Boeing brings to us, then it’s no wonder unions across the corporation strike every contract,” the UAW said in a statement to the Post-Telegram newspaper of Long Beach.

On the picket line this morning, striking workers pulled no punches.

“We’re fed up,” Brian Sullivan, a structures mechanic with 25 years’ experience, told the newspaper. “The medical issue is the main issue for us. The concessions are too much and the company expected us to take it lying down. We won’t.”

Local 148 officers said that Boeing had tried to raise health insurance premiums by 18 percent just before the current contract expired, which would have driven even higher costs into the proposed new agreement. Boeing negotiators also proposed increasing pharmacy co-pays and cutting Medicare Part B reimbursement. The result, according to the Post-Telegram, was that most members would pay $1,100 a year more for health insurance.

Those increased costs would wipe out most of the pay increases the company offered: a $4,000 signing bonus, with no raise in the first year, but 3-percent raises in the second, third and fourth years of the contract.

The proposed pay increases are well below what Boeing offered to workers at other sites, UAW negotiators noted. In Philadelphia, for example, helicopter assembly workers are getting $7,000 in lump-sum bonuses over the life of their new five-year contract, with annual raises of 2 to 4 percent each year.

Local 148 negotiators said they want to see pay and benefits for Long Beach workers that are equal to what Boeing pays at its other sites.

“We are all aware how much money the C-17 program makes for this company. We are also aware of how much compensation Jim McNerney makes in a year,” they told members in a recent statement warning them that a strike seemed inevitable. “We deserve compensation as well.”

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