The engineers and technical workers in SPEEA work on plans for new planes, as well as solving problems that arise on the factory floor. When a hole gets drilled a millimeter off, or a part is a little too big or too small, a SPEEA member figures out the fix.
The union believes a strike would shut down Boeing production lines in Everett, Wash., where its big planes are made, as well as Renton, Wash., where it cranks out more than one of its widely-used 737s every day. The factory-floor assembly work is done by the members of the International Association of Machinists.
Goforth believes a strike would also shut down Boeing's new, non-union plant in North Charleston, S.C., which makes 787s in addition to those assembled in Everett. That's because much of the engineering work on the South Carolina planes are done by SPEEA members in Washington, or who are flown in on assignment to South Carolina, he said.
Boeing isn't saying whether it would keep the plants running through a strike, but it has contingency plans. "We of course don't want a strike," spokesman Doug Alder Jr. said.
Labor strife has impacted the 787 before. The Machinists walked out in 2008, contributing to a three-and-a-half year delay in delivering the first 787. It was also one factor in Boeing opening the plant in South Carolina, where laws make it more difficult to unionize.
The Machinists approved a new, four-year contract in December 2011. Wall Street welcomed the labor peace, and Boeing shares jumped 12 percent in the month after the deal was announced.
Boeing has posted a profit of about $4 billion each in 2011 and 2012. In December it said it would boost its dividend to shareholders.
"Boeing's big problem, of course, is that it's doing well" and union members want to be rewarded, said Gary Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University.
Still, Chaison thinks a strike will be avoided. The things they're fighting over — pensions and other retiree benefits — can be negotiated, he said. And, with all the company's other issues right now, "Boeing wants this off the table."
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