The Washington Post

Boeing workers around St. Louis vote to strike

Union plans walkout at three factories after rejecting pay, 401(k) offer

- BY AARON GREGG

Nearly 2,500 Boeing workers at three St. Louis-area factories are prepared to go on strike next month, union officials say, after members voted down the jet maker’s latest contract offer.

The strike is set to begin Aug. 1 at Boeing factories in St. Louis, St. Charles, and nearby Mascoutah, Ill., according to an announceme­nt Sunday by the Internatio­nal Associatio­n of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837.

It’s the latest high-stakes dispute to emerge at a time when unions, emboldened by persistent labor shortages, are pressing their advantage to win back benefits they lost years ago. And they are finding workers increasing­ly willing to walk off the job: A labor action tracker maintained by Cornell University counted 643 strikes in the past 18 months.

The Machinists union contends Boeing is refusing to “adequately compensate our members’ 401(k)” after doing away with pensions. Boeing offered as much as a 10 percent match on 401(k) plans more than twice the 4.5 percent average, according to a recent Vanguard survey and suggested it would move forward with replacemen­t workers by activating its “contingenc­y plan” to support operations in the event of a strike.

The company also offered a 4 percent wage increase in the second year of the contract and 3 percent in the third, as well as ratificati­on bonuses, according to a contract summary published by the union. For the first year, employees would receive an additional $2 per hour across the board.

But workers felt shorted by the company’s proposed 401(k) contributi­on, according to an unsigned statement from the union. The union’s bargaining committee recommende­d against accepting Boeing’s offer.

“Boeing previously took away a pension from our members, and now the company is unwilling to adequately compensate our members’ 401(k) plan,” the union wrote. “We will not allow this company to put our members’ hard-earned retirement­s in jeopardy.”

A Boeing spokespers­on expressed disappoint­ment with Sunday’s vote to reject the company’s “strong, highly competitiv­e offer.”

“We are activating our contingenc­y plan to support continuity of operations in the event of a strike,” the Boeing spokespers­on said.

The St. Louis-area factories are part of Boeing’s Arlington, Va.-based defense unit, whose work producing military weaponry is considered “critical” to national security by some policymake­rs. They produce weaponry and military aircraft including the F-15 Eagle and F-18 Hornet fighter jets, the T-7 Red Hawk training jet and the MQ-25 refueling drone.

Together, those programs represent about $3.5 billion in 2022 revenue for Boeing, according to an analysis by Jefferies investment bank, making up a sizable chunk of Boeing’s $25.7 billion-ayear defense business.

For Boeing, the possible strike adds to an already uncertain business environmen­t. Labor shortages have long been of concern to aerospace companies, which rely on skilled employees to produce highly technical work with little margin for error. Boeing’s defense unit has often served as a financial backstop for the company’s commercial airplane business, which has been hamstrung by problems with the 737 Max and coronaviru­s restrictio­ns.

The company is scheduled to report second-quarter financial results Wednesday. The company’s stock is down 24 percent year to date, trailing both the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500. Boeing stock was down 1.1 percent by noon Monday.

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