Union: 'Very high chance' of Boeing strike in Feb.

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Boeing's engineering union has begun making detailed preparations for a strike that could come as soon as February, the executive director of the union said Friday.

"I think there is a very high chance of a strike," said Ray Goforth, executive director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

His warning came during a break in the talks, which this week were suspended at the request of federal mediators until January — supposedly a "cooling-off period."

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder said the company doesn't want a strike and that "this rhetoric is not doing anybody any good."

But Goforth insisted that the strike talk is more than rhetoric.

He said the union has done a budgeting exercise to estimate the funds needed to support a 60-day strike, but, if needed, it can fund a strike for "many multiples" of 60 days.

The union this week trained 150 "picket captains" who will be responsible for scheduling shifts on picket lines at Boeing's factories around the region, Goforth said.

And he said his team has begun to work on details of strike logistics, such as how many portable toilets will be needed at picket points; how many vans to shuttle between them; and whether the union needs supplemental liability insurance for van drivers or pickets at burn barrels.

When federal mediators announced the suspension of negotiations, it seemed some quiet progress could be made in the background over the season of good will.

That doesn't appear likely.

Rick Oglesby, a mediator with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who participated in the talks this week, said there'll be no substantive mediation during the break.

Goforth said negotiations likely won't resume until the second week of January. He expects that a deadlock will be apparent, and "very soon in January" the union will call a vote to authorize a strike.

Assuming union members provide that authorization, another period of negotiation would follow, with an expectation that Boeing might improve its latest offer.

If that fails to bridge the divide, Goforth said, a strike could begin as early as Feb. 1.

The company's initial offer was rejected in an Oct. 1 ballot of the union's 23,000 members, who are mostly in the Puget Sound region, with small pockets in Gresham, Ore., Utah and California.