- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

SEATTLE (AP) Federal mediators asked Boeing Co. and its largest union to extend their contract and resume negotiations, but the airplane maker's refusal yesterday set the stage for a potential strike next week.

"There is nothing left to negotiate," the company said in a statement.

Negotiators from Boeing and the machinists union were asked yesterday morning to report to the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service headquarters in Washington on Wednesday.

The union already was voting yesterday on whether to accept Boeing's "best and final" offer, made Tuesday, or strike at midnight Sunday, when the contract expires.

A letter from mediation service Director Peter Hurtgen said the agency was stepping in because "any job action threatens to cause a substantial disruption of commerce."

The union quickly agreed to participate in the talks, said Richard Barnes, the mediation service's deputy director.

But Boeing refused.

"The teams spent months negotiating in good faith," it said. "The Boeing negotiating team has done everything possible and within reason to craft an offer that is fair, competitive and respectful."

In anticipation of resuming negotiations, the union had said it would seal the ballots without counting them yesterday night. The union and federal mediators had no immediate comment on Boeing's refusal.

At a news conference, chief Boeing negotiator Jerry Calhoun said he thought federal intervention had tainted the process, but that the results of the vote yesterday should be released.

Mr. Calhoun also contended that the union had requested the intervention and was using it to manipulate the outcome encouraging "no" votes to strengthen the machinists' position in continued negotiations.

The mediation service has said its decision was made independently and not in response to a union request.

The union asked Boeing earlier this week to extend the existing contract day by day as talks continued. The company refused, saying negotiations had been under way for months.

Mr. Barnes said the mediation service was concerned about the economic effect of any strike.

"We are just trying to head off a train wreck," he said. "We're hoping that cooler heads will prevail. Thirty days will not hurt."

Three years ago, the agency had called Boeing and its engineering and technical workers union into negotiations. The union ended up striking for 40 days before resolving the dispute.

Boeing's contract offer on Tuesday wrapped up two weeks of intensive talks for a contract to cover 25,000 machinists.

Machinists had been seeking to more than double pensions and to secure job guarantees linked to aircraft deliveries, revenues or other business benchmarks. Boeing's final offer would have raised pensions by 20 percent by the third year of the contract and included no substantial changes to its job-security language.

The contract also calls for changes in employee health care costs, including increases in monthly premiums.

In addition, Boeing offered an 8 percent ratification bonus for accepting the deal, and raises of 2 percent and 2.5 percent in the second and third years of the contract.

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