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Boeing loses appeal over Oklahoma workers’ retirement benefits



Friday, March 19, 2010 – Page updated at 06:55 AM

Boeing loses appeal over Oklahoma workers’ retirement benefits

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

The U.S. federal Court of Appeals Thursday affirmed an arbitration decision that means production workers at Boeing’s former manufacturing plants in Oklahoma are entitled to early retirement at 55 with a Boeing pension and lifetime health insurance paid for by Boeing.

There were about 1,200 Oklahoma employees working in two facilities in Tulsa and McAlester when Boeing sold those plants to Spirit AeroSystems in 2005. To qualify for early retirement they must have been over 50 at the time of the sale and have had at least 10 years of Boeing service.

The ruling could also affect similar disputes over pension and benefit rights for both production workers and engineering staff at Boeing’s former plant in Wichita, Kan., which was sold to Spirit at the same time.

The UAW contract with Boeing included the early retirement provision if a worker was laid off. Boeing argued the obligation was terminated by the sale to Spirit. The UAW appealed and an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor.

The Appeals Court affirmation of that outcome is scathingly worded, rejecting Boeing’s legal arguments as "desperate."

The court said it recognized Boeing’s desire to avoid paying lifetime benefits to early retirees and noted that similar collective bargaining commitments had helped drive General Motors and Chrysler into bankruptcy.

"But Boeing is stuck with the commitments," the court ruled. "It was not required to provide lifetime benefits to workers represented by the UAW, but it agreed to do so and must live with its decision."

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