Boeing Falls as Technical Workers' Union Strikes

The size of the strike is unknown.
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Updated from 8:18 a.m. EST

Shares of aerospace giant

Boeing

(BA) - Get Report

fell Wednesday on news a technical workers' union has declared a strike.

The strike could potentially involve tens of thousands of technical workers at Boeing, but the actual number of striking employees was unclear. The

Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace

represents 22,000 workers total, but its actual due-paying members number around 13,000.

SPEEA called the strike Wednesday morning after federally mediated union contract negotiations failed to reach an agreement on labor contracts late Tuesday. The two sides were unable to agree on benefits and pay, despite two days of assistance from C. Richard Barnes, director of

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Services

.

The strike sent shares of Boeing lower Wednesday. In midday trading, Boeing was down 1 15/16, or 5%, at 38 7/8. (Shares closed down 1 13/16, or 4.4%, at 39.)

Some analysts said the company's earnings prospects would not suffer any significant damage if the strike turns out to be short-lived.

"We can say with some comfort that a short strike of one or two weeks will have no material impact on the company," said Christopher H. Mecray, analyst at

Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown

who rates Boeing a buy and whose firm has not underwritten any stock or debt for Boeing in more than five years.

Mecray added that the loss of engineers and technical workers will not have any immediate effect on the company's ability to fill orders, and that the loose structure of the union means that many employees are likely to not strike.

Both sides confirmed that strikes had begun Wednesday morning, but both declined to estimate just how many workers were involved.

Boeing spokesman Peter Conte said the company is "focussed on maintaining company operations to the highest degree possible with all employees who are on the job."

He added that there are no new negotiations scheduled, but that the federal mediator will be meeting with both sides over the next few days.

SPEEA is reportedly seeking more guaranteed pay raises and bonuses, similar to production workers in the machinists union. The Seattle-based manufacturer's most recent offer on Jan. 13, which it has since withdrawn, provided for pay raises of around 5% in the first year and 4% in the remaining two years. That offer was rejected by a majority of the union's members.

SPEEA represents engineers, scientists, technical writers, software engineers and other technical workers at Boeing in Washington, Kansas, California, Florida, Utah, Texas and Oregon.

The walkout would be only the second by the union. In 1992, SPEEA's engineers staged a largely symbolic strike for only a day in 1992 during contract negotiations. Boeing declared an impasse in the negotiations, and the two sides worked out their differences over several months.

The current walkout would be a continuation of what has become a heated contract negotiation, which narrowly averted a strike last week after both sides agreed to federal mediation.

From the beginning, however, union members seemed to have little faith that the mediation would lead to a contract. Monday, Boeing workers staged impromptu demonstrations around the company's sites. According to a statement by the union, 400-600 workers marched and picketed at several Boeing facilities in Washington.