SEATTLE - With less than one month to go before an October 6 deadline for a new contract, Boeing and its second-largest union appear far apart on any deal.

We want salaries to be market leading, where we can attract and retain the best talent in the world, said Mike Delaney, Boeing s engineering vice president for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. We have to find that sweet spot and balance, that s the complexity of this discussion.

Boeing said it pays about 7 percent more than other large, high-tech manufacturing companies that it considers to be peers. But the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents 23,000 Boeing engineers and technical workers, says the company needs to do more.

Boeing is paying in the middle of the pack, according to SPEEA's executive director Ray Goforth. We re focused on getting a deal, said Goforth. For some reason the company is not.

Boeing said it traditionally doesn t put a full offer on the table until about three weeks before the contract is up. SPEEA members then get two weeks to vote on any agreement by mail.

In this round, the union demanded that the company put its offer on the table months ago. Instead, SPEEA said, it s been frustrated by company presentations justifying potential changes to wages, pensions and compensation.

Just give us an offer. That is a sea-change in behavior from previous times, and quite honestly, we re adjusting to that, said Delaney.

SPEEA s contract requests have ranged from simply extending the existing contract, which includes 5 percent wage increases, to a second offer asking for wage increases of up to 7.5 percent. Boeing doesn't think those offers add up.

If you rolled [SPEEA's] numbers, they would be 25 to 30 percent over the national market for engineering. And that would make my team uncompetitive, said Delaney.

They want across-the-board pay and benefit cuts, said Goforth. And if you were to simply extend our existing bargaining agreement, you couldn t achieve those cuts.

The union said detailed discussions about pensions and medical benefits amount to takeaways, while the company said there are no takeaways, but there are changes. For example, moving away from traditional pensions for new hires toward 401(k) retirement plans.

There is even disagreement on the final presentation of the economic package by the company, which typically comes during final marathon bargaining at a hotel near Sea-Tac Airport. SPEEA said no hotel has been booked yet, and it has yet to be notified of any plans to meet before scheduled talks slated for this Thursday.

Boeing said it alerted the union that it s ready to sit down for the final round of talks.

In 2000, SPEEA members went on strike for 40 days after rejecting two contract proposals. Goforth said SPEEA is not expecting a strike this time, but does believe it may take several offers from Boeing before a final deal is reached.

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