Unions at Boeing vie to boost the ranks Machinists battling engineers for 20,000 non-aligned workers
Tuesday, August 22, 2000
By PAUL NYHAN SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER REPORTER
The biggest union at Boeing, stepping up a battle for up to a quarter of the company's Washington state work force, is starting to knock on doors. Literally.
The effort is the latest development in a competition between the largest and second-largest unions at Boeing, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District Lodge 751 and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, respectively.
The two sides are fighting for the chance to represent up to 20,000 administrative, computing, planning and other workers in the region who are not now part of any union at Boeing.
Last week, the Machinists intensified their effort by dispatching an army of union officials to the doors of regional employees, hoping to eventually reach as many as 10,000 workers.
The goal of their 10-day effort? To secure enough support from potential members for the IAM to file for an election before the end of year, according to Dennis London, grand lodge representative at the union.
"This is a big piece of the effort," London said. "This is an issue of working families . . . providing people (with) benefits."
The organizing campaign could also become a major issue within the national labor movement. That's because 20,000 workers represents a huge target for any union, according to Margaret Levi, director of the University of Washington's Center for Labor Studies.
Unlike the Machinists, the engineering union is focusing its efforts on reaching people in the workplace, said Paul Shearon, the union's director of organizing. The IAM, meanwhile, is targeting workers in both arenas, London said.
Both unions would receive a huge boost in membership if they could secure the entire group. Roughly 20,000 workers would nearly double the IAM District Lodge 751's current level of more than 24,000 active Boeing workers. The lodge's parent claims more than 530,000 active members.
The engineering union, which linked up with its parent, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, and the AFL-CIO last year, already represents roughly 20,000 workers in the Puget Sound region.
But it is possible that more than one union would appear on any ballot -- if the unions get enough signatures to bring representation to a vote.
The Machinists argue they have been working on this campaign for nearly a decade, responding to requests from the work force. So, they're confident they should speak for the non-represented Boeing workers at future bargaining tables.
So the union has sent out roughly 70 two-man teams -- armed with manuals, newsletters, information on dues and other data -- in recent days.
The teams stress the advantages of IAM membership, from recent contract successes to AFL-CIO supported credit cards.
Union leaders place particular emphasis on their recent negotiating record, saying they secured the best contract in the aerospace industry for their members during the last negotiating round.
The Machinists have set an ambitious schedule. Organizers are striving to file completed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board by the end of the summer, although they haven't set any hard deadlines.
The engineers argue they are a better match for the targeted workers, described by officials as white-collar employees, since they already represent similar workers. In fact, the union recently won a fight with Boeing to represent the same classes of workers in Wichita, Kan.
"We are the only union at The Boeing Co. that represents the employees that we are seeking to represent," SPEEA's Shearon said.
"We have proved that the model we have used to organize can be successful and succeed with this type of employee."
Officials at the Machinists union dismiss that argument, pointing out their union represents a wide range of workers, including clerical and office workers at Northwest Airlines, hospital workers at Evergreen Washington Health Care and technical and office employees at a Boeing operation in Canada.
While the two unions are feuding, the engineers said they would discuss some type of compromise.
If the petition campaigns succeed, the National Labor Relations Board would then review the efforts, checking with employees and taking other steps, according to union officials.
The board also could call a hearing to listen to both union leaders and Boeing executives.
If the labor board approves the petitions, however, union officials are hoping to hold an election by the end of the year.
Boeing officials declined to comment on the campaigns.
UW's Levi, however, said the company is likely to discourage workers from linking up with either union:
"They will try to persuade workers, probably, that they are better off not being unionized."