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Boeing workers at 3 St. Louis-area factories vote to strike

2,500 members of the Machinists and Aerospace Workers union are prepared to walk out Aug. 1 after rejecting the planemaker’s wage and 401(k) offers

The Machinists union contends Boeing is refusing to “adequately compensate our members’ 401(k)” after doing away with pensions. (Reed Saxon/AP)
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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 jetmaker’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.

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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.

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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-a-year 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.