ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Nearly 2,600 union machinists in suburban St. Louis approved a three-year labor contract with Boeing Co. on Sunday.

ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Nearly 2,600 union machinists in suburban St. Louis approved a three-year labor contract with Boeing Co. on Sunday.

The Chicago-based aerospace company said the agreement reached late Wednesday calls for an average 9.5 percent compensation increase over the life of the contract, as well as a 17 percent increase in pension benefits.

The close vote of 951 to 883 in favor of the contract sends a message to Boeing that many employees were unhappy with the contract, said Ricky Smith, president of International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 837.

"It tells them that come Monday morning, we're going to have a lot of unhappy folks," Smith said. He and other union leaders recommended accepting the contact although they disagreed with portions of it.

"To ask our members to go on strike for three weeks, six weeks or six months — we didn't feel like there was anything in there that warranted that," Smith said.

Boeing spokesman Forrest Gossette said both the company and the union compromised on the contract.

"It's our contract and we're very happy with it," Gossette said. "It's a competitive contract for our employees."

The IAM workers are part of Boeing's St. Louis-based Integrated Defense Systems, making everything from F-18 fighter jets to missiles and component parts.

The contract calls for a 4 percent general wage increase this year and another 3 percent increase in 2009. But it also calls for lump-sum payments of $2,500 in both 2007 and 2008. The company said the deal will provide about $24,000 in additional compensation over the term of the agreement.

The average Machinist earns about $58,000 annually, Machinists spokesman Tom Pinski said.

The improvement in the pension plan will mean workers retiring after July 1 will have benefits of $70 per month for each year of service.

Many Machinists booed Sunday when the contract was approved. Chief among their concerns is a provision allowing new classifications within labor grades.

"It's not a money issue," said 44-year-old Chris Myrick. "It's our job security. The new classifications scare a lot of people."

Myrick and others said they were worried they might be laid off, then rehired under a new job classification that cuts their pay.

But union negotiators successfully fought Boeing's requests to exempt less-experienced workers from layoffs if they had skills deemed essential to production. The union said that proposal would have allowed management to ignore the rights of workers with seniority.

Boeing purchased its former rival, St. Louis-based McDonnell Douglas, in 1997. The merger came a year after the most recent strike at the facilities, when Machinists walked off the job for 99 days.

Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $32.4 billion business with 72,000 employees worldwide. The deal approved Sunday covers only Machinists in District 837.

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On the Net:

Boeing Co.: http:www.boeing.com

IAM District 837: http:www.iam837.org