UPDATE 2-Boeing technical engineers ratify four-year labor deal

Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:55pm EDT

SEATTLE, March 18 (Reuters) - Boeing Co technical workers voted by a wide margin to ratify a new four-year labor agreement with the company, ending the possibility of a strike that could have cut production at a critical time for the aircraft maker.

A strike by just technical workers could have slowed or even halted production of Boeing airplanes, with the workers key to solving engineering issues on the factory floor.

It also could have complicated a wide-ranging review of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner by the Federal Aviation Administration and a probe by the National Transportation Safety Board, after charred batteries on two 787s prompted a grounding of the entire fleet in January.

Last month, a second, larger SPEEA bargaining unit representing 15,500 professional engineers narrowly accepted a similar contract.

"The votes by technical workers and engineers in recent weeks will allow us to come together and focus on the challenges and opportunities we face this year," Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said in a statement.

Members of the technical workers bargaining unit voted 4,244 to approve the contract and 654 voted to reject it, with two abstentions, union representatives in Seattle said after votes were tallied.

The technical workers are represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).

The decision announced on Monday ends a contract negotiation that began nearly a year ago.

Last month, the technical workers, a bargaining unit with about 7,500 members, narrowly rejected the same contract and authorized union leaders to call a strike.

The professional engineers also authorized the union to call a strike, but that decision became moot because the contract they approved prohibited workers from striking while a contract is in effect.

That would have meant the technical workers would have struck alone had they walked out.

The contracts covering both groups provide 5 percent annual pay raises in each of the next four years, up from 3.5 percent for technical workers in Boeing's original offer.

The contracts eliminate a pension for new hires, leaving them with a 401(k) plan. Current workers have both a pension and a 401(k).

Some of the technical workers may have voted against the offer last month because they earn lower salaries than professional engineers and are more concerned about their retirement savings, the union said.

Technical workers earn about $79,000 a year on average, while professional engineers earn about $110,000.

"Like most new employees at Boeing, technical workers and engineers will now receive the company's 'enhanced 401(k)' and not the defined benefit pension," SPEEA said in a statement.

"By the end of the new agreement, SPEEA-represented technical workers, and also the engineers, will have received eight straight years of 5 percent salary increase pools, with guaranteed minimum wage increases each year of the contract."

The pools provide money to distribute among employees for raises of varying amounts. All workers are assured a minimum raise.

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