Engineering Union Wades Into Boeing’s 787 Storm

If it never rains but it pours, then Boeing is in need of some heavy duty waterproof gear. Possibly even an ark, although that could be fraught with difficulty. Following the global grounding of its flagship 787 due to a raft of problems in the electrical system, fuel tanks, engines, brakes and cockpit, the airframer has been obliged to issue a “best-and-final” contract offer to workers represented by the SPEEA union.

According to Boeing, the proposed four-year deal agrees with the union’s approach to extend the terms of the previous contract for current employees “except for proposals explicitly agreed upon by both parties during negotiations”.

Under the terms of the deal, all workers represented by SPEEA would see salary pools of five per cent per annum for the duration of the contract. Additional pay and incentives would amount to $84,071 for engineers and $64,515 for technical personnel; extra benefits would include a freeze on any increase in employee contributions to health care programmes, plus an enhanced retirement savings plan for new recruits.

Mike Delaney, VP of engineering, Boeing Commercial Airplanes described the proposed deal as “a market-leading offer by all measures”, adding somewhat euphemistically that reaching an agreement “as soon as possible will allow all of us to focus our time and energy on the immediate challenges facing the company”.

“Immediate” is indeed the word. EASA has followed the FAA’s lead by grounding the 787 in Europe, Boeing’s Dreamliner customers have issued apologies to passengers and word of the aircraft’s troubles has flooded beyond the industry into the public domain. The last thing Boeing needs right now is a hissy fit by some of its most crucial employees.

But of course, for those workers now is the ideal time to strike (perhaps literally). SPEEA yesterday turned up the heat by calling for a rejection of the final offer, claiming that Boeing’s actions “reiterate the company’s growing disrespect for the engineers and technical workers who are essential to working issues and restoring confidence in the 787”. The union dismissed claims that such tasks could be performed by others.

Meanwhile, Airbus chose the same day to trumpet new delivery records for 2012 (588 aircraft to 89 customers) and the surpassing of its order target of 650 orders (914 gross) - adding helpfully that it has set “a new industry-wide record” backlog of 4,682 aircraft valued at over $638bn. Oh, and Airbus also announced that it’s putting its prices up – by an average of 3.6 per cent.

While rumours are running like wildfire and it’s best to wait for the official verdict from the regulators on the root causes of the Dreamliner’s problems, some observers have speculated that Boeing ended up pushing out the 787 sooner than was wise, after a series of delays in development.

Whether or not that is the case, yesterday’s collection of announcements would appear to confirm that timing is everything.

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