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Boeing engineers union likely to back mediation talks

A Boeing 787 sits on the assembly line at the company's operations in Everett, Washington, October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Andy Clark
A Boeing 787 sits on the assembly line at the company's operations in Everett, Washington, October 18, 2012. REUTERS/Andy Clark

(Reuters) - The union that represents Boeing Co engineers is likely to agree to mediated talks in a bid to resolve the standoff with the planemaker, the executive director of the union said on Friday.

On Thursday, Boeing asked for U.S. mediators to help resolve talks with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) union, which represents its 23,000 engineers, saying the sides were far apart on pay and benefits.

That move halted labor discussions around midday on Thursday in Seattle, and no further meetings were scheduled, the two sides said. Union contracts with Boeing expired on Sunday.

"We will almost certainly agree to some type of mediation, but we find the company's position confusing," Ray Goforth, SPEEA executive director, said in an email to Reuters.

Goforth said Chicago-based Boeing had not responded to many union proposals and that a lot work was left to do.

"We view this action on their part as a stunt to distract people from the proposed pay and benefit cuts," Goforth added.

The union has balked at a Boeing contract that it says would cut the growth rate of compensation of professional and technical employees. Boeing says its latest offer is much improved over its initial proposal and reflects a tough competitive environment.

The breakdown in talks comes as Boeing looks to speed up jet production from 52 a month to about 60 a month by the end of next year. A walkout by the union could stop production.

Peter Arment, an analyst with Sterne, Agee & Leach, expressed hope that the dispute would be resolved with mediation. He noted strikes by SPEEA were rare, with the last one occurring in 2000.

"There's still time for this to be resolved long before it would affect Boeing's commercial aircraft production," Arment said.

Shares of Boeing edged down 3 cents to $74.09 in Friday trading.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott in New York and Karen Jacobs in Atlanta; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Leslie Gevirtz)

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