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SEATTLE In what can only be described as a non-traditional approach, the union representing some 23,000 engineers and technical employees at Boeing is not planning a marathon session of negotiations this week with company representatives.

Instead, leadership of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) plans to brief representatives from around the company this afternoon after spending the weekend reviewing the proposal Boeing presented to the union last Thursday.

A SPEEA spokesman said the union isn't prepared to talk publicly until after today's briefing concludes. The union said there is continued frustration over Boeing's proposals on wages and benefits, including what the union calls take aways on medical and retirement plans.

Boeing released its proposals last week, which include a 3.5 percent annual wage increase over four years for engineers, and a 3 percent wage increase in the first year for technicians, followed by 2.5 percent increases in the following years. Employee contributions for health benefits would roughly double over the course of the contract, from $2,000 a year now to $4,100 dollars by 2016. Boeing s share would also rise, from around $13,900 a year per employee to $16,000.

The company said that despite the increased benefit costs to workers, overall compensation for engineers is still rising. SPEEA, however, said the changes in health costs and Boeing s desire to move new hires to a 401(K) contribution plan instead of a traditional pension are backward steps for their members. SPEEA had been talking about wage increases in the 5 percent to 7 percent range and limiting health care contributions and enhancements to the traditional retirement plan.

A strike seems unlikely. In 2000, SPEEA walked off the job for 40 days, but only after voting down two Boeing offers. The current contract expires October 6, and since SPEEA members vote by mail, this is considered a critical week to wrap up negotiations on a final offer before ballots are sent.

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