Page last updated at 08:34 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 09:34 UK

Boeing workers are ready for a long strike

By Jackson Hewett
Business reporter, BBC News, Seattle

Boeing picket line
Boeing workers are prepared for a long strike
It's high noon in Seattle and hundreds of Boeing workers are turning up for their shifts.

But they're not heading into the factory - they're checking in for picket line duty.

The 27,000 members of the Aerospace Machinist's Union have been off the job for 47 days now - the third longest strike in Boeing's history.

The key sticking point is a plan by Boeing to allow outside contractors greater access to the plant, enabling them to deliver components directly onto the production line.

Workers say that's a union busting plan that threatens their jobs.

"They were gonna outsource a lot of jobs," Mark Carpenter says as he joins his co-workers at gate 6 of Boeing's Everett plant.

"If we don't put a stop to it, they'll keep outsourcing and outsourcing. Pretty soon, none of us will have jobs here."

Desperate situation

Everyone on the picket line is psychologically prepared for this strike to go on for a long time.

Jason Smith and baby
I have to make do with the little amount I've saved up and find other ways to get income to take care of my son
Jason Smith

Strikes are a common part of the bargaining process that accompanies each new contract.

So workers make sure they put money aside to get them through such stoppages.

One 30 year veteran says he has put enough aside to get through another year without work.

But its not so easy for younger members.

Cradling his eight-month-old son in one arm, and a "strike against Boeing" in the other is Jason Smith.

He's been with the company just four months - one and a half of those on the picket.

"It's stressful," he says. "You take it day by day.

"I have to make do with the little amount I've saved up and find other ways to get income to take care of my son."

Suppliers hit

The strike is costing Boeing $100m a day, according to analysts, and is increasing the year-long delays on delivery of the new 787 Dreamliner.

John Theisen
It's costing us tens of thousands of dollars a day
John Theisen

That could leave the company vulnerable to demands for compensation from airlines.

For the state of Seattle, the strike compounds the impact of the US economic downturn. For every one job at a Boeing plant, three others created elsewhere.

Particularly hard hit are the thousands of small suppliers that rely on Boeing as a customer.

One of those is Orion Industries.

They make components that go into the fuselage.

The company's chief executive, John Theisen, has had to cut employee's shifts back to four days a week.

If it goes on much longer, he'll need to cut work by another day.

"It's costing us tens of thousands of dollars a day" he says.

Selfish strike

Employee Cewanda Sconiers has cut back on groceries and is now lining up at local food banks.

Mark Carpenter
Pretty soon, none of us will have jobs here
Mark Carpenter

"It's devastating," she says.

Other workers in this non-union factory aren't that sympathetic to striking workers.

"I'm not guaranteed a job for life," says one. "Why should they?

"I think it's selfish of them," says another.

"They don't realise how it affects people like us."

Former Boeing worker Vince Zollaco can see both sides of the argument, but ultimately has a very pragmatic view.

"If Boeing didn't outsource, I wouldn't have a job."

Boeing says it needs to outsource work to make it more efficient and flexible.

Particularly as rival Airbus is planning to open a plant in low-cost China.

And with the Chinese government's intention of starting its own aerospace industry, costs across the sector may be driven down.

Boeing workers on the picket lines say they'll fight any attempt by the company to lower costs at their expense and going into Thursday's fresh round of negotiations, feel they have the upper hand.

Boeing has seven years of orders on its books, and in this state where there's a shortage of skilled workers, machinists say there's no way Boeing can get those planes made without them.


SEE ALSO
Boeing supplier cuts production
09 Sep 08 |  Business
US Boeing workers strike over pay
07 Sep 08 |  Business
Boeing workers decide to strike
04 Sep 08 |  Business
Dreamliner hits Boeing's results
23 Jul 08 |  Business

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