Hundreds of L.B. C-17 workers strike Boeing

LONG BEACH, Calif. Picket lines are up at several Boeing locations across Long Beach. The company is the city's biggest employer, with about 1,700 workers.

The strike is expected to have a ripple effect in 44 other states across the country, where workers make the engines and the parts for the /*C-17*/. Production has been halted on the C-17s since 12:01 a.m. after talks broke down on Monday night.

Boeing has a pending order with India for 10 of the $250 million cargo jets, and the United Arab Emirates just bought six C-17s in January.

Workers say they don't want to be on the picket line, but they say the company's contract offer was substandard, leaving them no choice.

"The rest of Boeing has not made the profits. We have been the backbone, we have supported the rest of Boeing, and now, they want to go ahead and treat us this way," said Boeing worker Roberto Boligan. "That's just totally unfair."

The UAW said 80 percent of its members rejected Boeing's offer because of pension and medical benefits. The average age on the assembly line is 55.

"From prescriptions, our co-pays, everything...we just want them to leave our medical alone," said Boeing mechanic David Provencio.

"The kind of retirement they're being offered right now is just unacceptable," said C-17 production worker Sharon Jones. "They can't live off that and pay the insurance too."

Karl Fees has worked for Boeing for 44 years. Under the contract workers rejected, he says would have had a pension less than $42,000 a year and would have paid more for prescription drugs.

"We've been going backwards here for a long time and we've made every concession to keep this plant open," Fees said. "And then come up with a proposal like this. It's pretty insulting really."

Workers are concerned with what the future holds, and they are hoping the strike will be resolved quickly so that it puts less of a strain on their families. The union hasn't called for a walk-out in Long Beach since 1983.

"For the next several weeks, it's going to be tough. Luckily, we have money in the bank that we can survive for a few weeks," said Boeing mechanic Alfred Tellez. "Necessities, we got to budget down a little bit."

The C-17 is the backbone of the Air Force airlift command, but under current contracts, Boeing only has 15 more to build. The company is turning to foreign governments to keep its order book filled, but to do that, it needs to cut costs.

"We also have to balance the needs of making the C-17 more affordable, because we cannot achieve new sales especially on the international front if the price of the C-17 escalates from where it is today," said Boeing spokesperson Cindy Anderson.

Boeing said in a written statement, "The company has maintained a focus throughout these negotiations on providing a contract that both rewards employees and also keeps the C-17 competitive to capture new business and keep the production line running."

The company also said it wanted to avoid a strike, but the union turned out an offer "that surpasses local and industry standards." Boeing said the offer included pay raises on average of 3.4 percent per year.

There are no plans at this time for both sides to return to the bargaining table.

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