By Alwyn Scott
NEW YORK, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Union leaders representing about 23,000 Boeing Co engineers voted on Thursday to put a strike authorization question on a ballot that will go to members next week.
Strike authorization by members of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) does not by itself declare a strike, but it would give union negotiating teams power to call one at any time.
An engineers’ strike could cripple production of all Boeing airplanes and would complicate a wide-ranging review of the 787 Dreamliner by the Federal Aviation Administration. It also could impede an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into charred batteries on two 787s that prompted a grounding of the entire 787 fleet last week.
Boeing has said it has other engineers it can draw on in the event that its engineering workforce walks out.
The ballot to be mailed on Feb. 5 recommends members reject the “best and final” contract that Boeing offered on Jan. 17. The votes will be tallied on Feb. 19.
Boeing’s offer extends the terms of the previous contract for another four years and includes 5 percent annual pay raises for professional and technical workers.
Boeing’s offer also would enroll new employees in a defined contribution retirement plan, a shift from the defined benefit plan that current employees receive. The union objects to that change, saying it would reduce benefits over the long term.
Boeing has said it is trying to reduce pension costs. In fourth-quarter results released Wednesday, it said discretionary cash pension contributions tripled to $1.6 billion in 2012 from the year before, and are expected to be $1.5 billion in 2013.