Boeing's (NYSE: BA) labor negotiations took a turn for the surreal Monday.
Last month, as you may recall, Boeing's biggest labor union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, or IAMAW, District 751, District W-24, voted down a deal to renew and extend its labor contract -- voting 2-to-1 against. Boeing had offered to guarantee union members jobs building its new 777X airliner in Seattle for a decade and longer. But Boeing wanted something in exchange: Union members would need to give up their system of guaranteed pensions for life forever and agree to a series of minimal wage raises -- about 1% per year, every other year (plus minor cost-of-living tweaks).
Weeks later, Boeing returned to the bargaining table with a new offer featuring another $5,000 bonus, on top of $10,000 already offered (albeit six years from now), plus improved dental coverage, and it asked union management to recommend that contract to its members. That's when things got weird.
Big trouble with Big Labor
On one hand, local union reps didn't like Boeing's offer at all. Equating a "yes" vote on the offer as "giving away pensions, health care, and future wage growth for 10 long years," they accuse Boeing of offering little more than "economic destruction ... for the next 11 years -- without any opportunity to change those economic proposals or any other provision of the contract."
Needless to say, they're "adamantly recommending members reject this offer."
At the same time, though, Boeing has reached out to the union's top management (which District 751 refers to simply as "the International"), and asked them to call a vote on the contract anyway. Now, International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger -- the same R. Thomas Buffenbarger who in 2008 tried to bleed Boeing's bank account dry with a two-month-long strike -- thinks the locals should give Boeing a listen. On Monday, he set a Jan. 3 date for the vote.
District 751 decries this date as anti-Christmas, saying it's forcing union members to "spend your holidays studying and debating a concessionary proposal that is largely unchanged from the one you rejected by a 2-to-1 margin on Nov. 13." However, "there is no stopping the vote," says District 751, and so the vote will go on.
It's hard to see why. Boeing hasn't improved its original offer very much, after all. The union hasn't asked for improvements in the company's 401(k) proposal, either. And if the prospect of seeing 777X jobs going to rival workers in South Carolina, or elsewhere, didn't sway IAM members in November, it's hard to imagine that six weeks have changed their minds much.
My hunch: The Jan. 3 vote will look a whole lot like the one on Nov. 14 -- and this process will continue to drag on further into 2014.
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