The UAW called 1700 employees out on strike at Boeing's facility in Long Beach on Tuesday. Strikers began walking the picket lines shortly after midnight. Negotiating teams from both sides met earlier in the day but failed to reach agreement on changes to employee contributions to health benefits, which appears to be the primary issue in the dispute.
Last week, the company's best and final offer was rejected in a membership vote. The company offered average wage increases of 3.4% over the term of the contract, plus an increase in pension benefits. The main sticking point is the company's desire to increase the employee contribution for health benefit premiums to 15%, which would be a 3% increase. The increase would not take effect until 2014, however. The company also proposed eliminating a medicare supplement plan for retirees.
UAW would not agree to any increase in health contributions or elimination of the supplemental plan for retirees, and was demanding a slightly higher pension increase. The union's bargaining approach seems more suited for different economic times, particularly since the sole product of the facility, the C-17 transport plane, has been on the chopping block for some time. The strike could very well be the last straw, leading to cancellation of the C-17 program and closure of the facility.
It is difficult to determine the rationale behind this strike, particularly when the threat to the job security of the members is so apparent and the company's offer is relatively benign, given the more severe cutbacks experienced by many employees over the past year.