Boeing engineers union leaders to vote on strike authorization

Union leaders representing 23,000 engineers and technical workers at Boeing Co said Tuesday they will decide by January 31 whether to ask members to vote on a strike authorization alongside the latest contract offer.

Boeing made a final offer last week that included bigger pay raises and no reduction in healthcare benefits, but it would reduce retirement benefits for future workers.

The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) said its bargaining unit councils would hold meetings with members before councils vote at the end of the month. They met with some members Tuesday and have recommended that members reject Boeing's offer to replace a four-year agreement that expired in November.

"We could have gotten the strike authorization tonight," SPEEA Executive Director Ray Goforth said.

But, he added, "our members just found out about the offer Friday. They haven't even begun to digest what it means. We have a lot of education to do before it would be responsible to ask people to vote on it."

Ballots will be mailed to members during the week of February 4.

The risk of a strike comes as Boeing faces an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board and a design and manufacturing review by the Federal Aviation Administration for problems with its new 787 Dreamliner aircraft.

The NTSB is investigating an incident in Boston where a lithium-ion battery caught fire on a jet parked at a gate. It is also assisting Japanese regulators probing a battery that failed on a flight in Japan, prompting an emergency landing and evacuation. The two battery incidents, coming just days apart, have raised questions about the FAA's review of that system in 2007.

After the battery incidents, the FAA grounded the 787s in the United States, operated by United Airlines, and other regulators around the group followed, stopping flights by all 50 Dreamliners in service. It was the first such move since 1979. The biggest operators of 787s are Japan Airlines and launch customer All Nippon Airways.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Ken Wills)