For Boeing's St. Louis Workers, Strike Still Looms Large

Employees say they want pay raises, salary increases for new hires

click to enlarge A Boeing location in St. Louis County. - VIA GOOGLE MAPS
A Boeing location in St. Louis County.

The Boeing strike will be put on hold — for now.

Members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837 union initially planned to strike on Monday. They had strike duty planned out, new jobs lined up and a sense of pride for standing up to a multi-billion-dollar company.

“What is the alternative to accepting a culture?” one union member said. “Rejecting the culture.”

But following an overnight bargaining session and an updated contract offer from Boeing on Saturday, the union agreed to postpone the strike. Another vote will take place tomorrow.

One reason for the strike was the 401k plan.

Previously, Boeing had offered a 10 percent match on the 401k plan if workers contributed 10 percent. But union members said some workers didn’t make enough to contribute that much of their earnings.

On Saturday, Boeing reverted back to a previous retirement plan from its last contract — something union members wanted. Under the current plan, Boeing provides a 4 percent contribution upfront, while employees can also add up to 8 percent, with a 75 percent match from Boeing. The company also offered a one-time $8,000 lump sum, which workers can take as pay or add to their 401k.

“This new offer builds on our previous strong, highly competitive one and directly addresses the issues raised by our employees,” Boeing said in a statement. “We are hopeful they will vote yes on Wednesday.”
But union members, who make defense weapons and aircrafts, say the wounds go deeper than the 401k plan.

Five Boeing employees sat down with the RFT on Thursday afternoon before the last-minute contract negotiation. Most spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions from the company.

They said issues with their contract date back to 2014, when union members, wary of losing jobs, signed concessions that have haunted them till today. Most notably, they agreed to a two-tier pay system, meaning people hired after 2014 received a lower pay cap and slower raises. For some jobs, the pay cap was nearly $10 per hour lower than before.

“I'm more so [fighting] for the guys coming in,” says one union member. “It's hard for them to get money.”

Boeing’s most recent contract would eliminate the tier-two pay system and give pay raises. Many union members say some workers will still start with a $15 wage, and many won't receive a “livable wage” for years. Although they might make good money at the top pay scale, depending on the position, it can take close to 20 years to reach there.

One union member is a single mom who started at Boeing less than a year ago and brings home $14 an hour. With multiple kids, she’s struggling to make ends meet, and it will take her years to see a noticeable wage increase.

“People have an idea about us that, oh, we're just overpaid,” said Don Houston, a union member who is also running for Missouri state representative in District 68. “We are fucking not overpaid.”

“No, I don’t even qualify for an apartment on my income,” the woman responded.

There are other issues, too, such as outsourcing of work and a lack of vacation time in the first year.

Really, though, their issues revolve around fairness. The company made over $60 billion in revenue in 2021, while some workers need food stamps to get by.

“We've been making the money for the company,” Houston says. “We feel like we’re owed a little bit. Not trying to be greedy.”

But they won’t strike just yet. Whatever happens tomorrow, the workers are thinking about the future, they say.

“We want to take care of the next generation that's coming in,” a union member says. “This should be a place where I want my kids to be able to work, and I want my grandkids to be able to work.”

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