Boeing's Union Strike Delays Satellite Launch Plans

More than one thousand BoeingDelta rocket workers hit the picket lines this morning, snarling plans tolaunch a critical U.S. national security satellite and environmental researchspacecraft.

Differences over healthbenefits and retirement plans remained unsolved despite recent talks betweenBoeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

The union includes 365workers at the Delta program's lead Huntington Beach facility in California,plus 288 at Cape Canaveral and 100 at Vandenberg Air Force Base launch sites.The strike also affects workers at the rocket manufacturing plant in Decatur,Alabama.

Union members voted toreject Boeing's offer for a three-year contract, citing the company's desire tocut retiree health care coverage for new workers, among other complaints.

Boeing says the contractincluded pay hikes and improved pensions.

Attempts by a federalmediator to renew discussions between both sides on Tuesday failed to reach aconsensus.

The strike began at 12:01a.m. EST (0501 GMT) today.

Caught in the crossfire areseveral Delta rockets standing on launch pads at Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.Already delayed because of the strike is NASA's mission to place a pair ofatmospheric research satellites into orbit from California. That launch hadbeen scheduled for November 7, but was called off last week because the spaceagency didn't want its payloads sitting on the pad during a strike. As aresult, the spacecraft were left inside a processing hangar instead of beingmoved to the pad for mating to the rocket last Monday has scheduled.

Also at Vandenberg is alarger Delta 4 rocket that is supposed to haul a U.S. National ReconnaissanceOffice spy satellite cargo into orbit by year's end. It too is waiting for thepayload to be brought out to the pad.

Meanwhile, a Delta 4 atCape Canaveral has the GOES-N weather satellite already mounted aboard forlaunch sometime this month. Because this launch campaign has progressed muchfurther than the other two waiting at Vandenberg, Boeing says the company islooking to see if the union members are still needed for any remainingpre-launch preparations.

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