Striking Boeing Co. worker Anne Scholzen cooks chili on a burn barrel as she serves on strike duty Tuesday in front of the headquarters for Boeing's Commercial Airplanes division in Renton, Wash. - AP

Union set to vote Saturday on Boeing strike

SEATTLE — Boeing Co.'s Machinist union said it will vote on a tentative four-year labor pact on Saturday, a process that could end an eight-week strike against the airplane maker.

The strike, now in its 53rd day, has shut Boeing's commercial jet factories, cut into profits and delayed airplane deliveries.

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy on Tuesday said company and union officials would meet soon to set a schedule for workers to return to their jobs if the contract is ratified. Workers were given two weeks to report after the end of the last strike in 2005, but Healy said the company feels "that's probably too long."

As for the timing of the ratification vote, "that's their process," he said. "We want to get folks back to work as soon as we can."

It remains unclear how long it would take Boeing's commercial aircraft business to return to pre-strike production levels. Boeing representatives said the company will conduct an assessment once work resumes.

The union, representing 27,000 production workers in Washington state, Oregon and Kansas, went on strike Sept. 6 after rejecting a final contract offer by the company, with major sticking points being job security and health benefits.

The strike is the union's fourth against Boeing in two decades and has cost the Chicago-based airplane maker an estimated $100 million a day in deferred revenue and pushed back scheduled deliveries of its commercial airplanes, including its long-awaited 787 jetliner.

Last week, Boeing said its third-quarter profit sank 38 percent to $695 million, or 96 cents per share, because of the strike and supplier problems. The strike lowered earnings by roughly 35 cents per share, the supplier problems by 25 cents.

The strike also impeded Boeing's delivery schedule. The company delivered just 84 planes during the quarter, 35 fewer than planned.

Boeing's chief financial officer, James Bell, said after the earnings announcement that the company should be able to resume pre-strike production within two months. "Hopefully we can do it in a lot less time," he said in a conference call.

Boeing said its backlog of plane orders, meanwhile, was worth a record $349 billion, up from $346 billion at the end of the previous quarter.

Just a day after the earnings announcement, Boeing and union representatives began revived contract talks that lasted five straight days. The company and Machinists negotiators agreed to the proposed labor pact late Monday, with union negotiators unanimously endorsing the deal.

A notice posted on the Web site of Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle said union voting will be conducted along with the distribution of strike paychecks. The count is set for Saturday evening at the union hall with the results to be announced around 8:30 p.m PDT.

A simple majority is required for ratification.

Boeing and Machinists union representatives said the proposed deal would enhance job security, the thorniest issue in the dispute.

Early Tuesday, striking workers huddled around a burn barrel outside a 737 plant near Seattle and said they had seen only a summary of the proposed deal and wouldn't decide how to vote until they see the details.

"We've just seen the good parts," said Clay Tinker, a technician who joined Boeing in 1989. "We haven't seen the fine print, just the highlights."

Francis Larkin, a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in Washington, D.C., told The Associated Press the deal was reached shortly before 6 p.m. PDT Monday at Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters in Washington and the 52nd day of the walkout.

In a news release, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Scott E. Carson said the agreement "rewards employees for their contributions to our success while preserving our ability to compete."

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