Members of Boeing Co.'s biggest union authorized their leadership to call a strike if current contract talks fail, although both sides agreed that a work stoppage was unlikely. About 98% of voting members agreed to sanction a strike if necessary, according to leaders of the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents about 48,000 of Boeing's 211,000 employees. The move, which had been expected, was seen as a formality as Seattle-based Boeing and the union step up negotiations leading to the Sept. 2 expiration of the current four-year pact. Formal bargaining began about three weeks ago, and the two sides will begin intense, round-the-clock talks Aug. 16. Both sides have said they expect to avoid a repeat of the 1995 negotiations, marred by a 69-day strike that halted airplane construction at the aerospace giant. With Boeing planning to cut another 20,000 jobs by the end of next year, the union has said that its top concern is job security and has called for less outsourcing of union work to subcontractors, often overseas. The company already has cut its work force 12% from a peak of 238,600 last year. Boeing shares fell 38 cents to close at $44.88 on the NYSE.
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