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Strike at Boeing could delay launch

Machinists unit serves mainly NASA and the Air Force

Striking members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers march at the Boeing Co. plant Wednesday in Huntington Beach, Calif. Machinists also went on strike in Alabama and Florida.
Striking members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers march at the Boeing Co. plant Wednesday in Huntington Beach, Calif. Machinists also went on strike in Alabama and Florida.
Jebb Harris, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Boeing Co. officials have not yet decided whether to scrub upcoming satellite launches or hire replacement workers after machinists went on strike in California, Alabama and Florida, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

About 1,500 workers joined the walkout that began at 12:01 a.m. after last-minute talks broke down between their union and Boeing's Integrated Defense Systems unit that operates the Delta rocket program.

A federal mediator was unable to broker an agreement. No new talks were scheduled. The unit services mainly NASA and the Air Force.

Boeing was reviewing contingency plans and talking to customers, company spokesman Dan Beck said.

"It's too early for us to make a decision as to whether launches are going to be delayed," he said.

A union representative said three Delta rockets were on launch pads, two at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and one at Cape Canaveral, with the earliest launch scheduled for Nov. 15.

"They're not going to launch any more Delta rockets," said Gary Quick, chairman of the union's negotiating committee.

The machinists said Boeing had proposed ending retirement health care coverage for new employees and wants to eliminate caps on out-of-pocket expenses for medical premiums and copays.

The workers argue that they should not be making concessions when the company posted $1 billion in net income for the last quarter.

Beck said the company's offer would have given workers substantial pay increases and boosted pensions and savings plans.

Similar issues led to a four-week shutdown of Boeing's commercial aircraft assembly operations in the Pacific Northwest and Wichita, Kan., in September.

However, it's unlikely that Boeing's military clients will exert the same pressure as its commercial clients did to quickly settle the previous strike, said Paul Nisbet, an analyst with JSA Research.

"The government is unlikely to penalize Boeing in any way for any slippage of schedules," he said. "The government is quite tolerant of labor strikes. It's very different than the airlines."