Canadian Manufacturing

Washington workers reject Boeing's contract proposal for 777X work

Aerospace giant said it is "left with no choice," will pursue other options for aircraft through competition

SEATTLE—Boeing machinists in the Washington state rejected a contentious contract proposal that would have exchanged concessions for decades of secure jobs.

The International Association of Machinists District 751 announced the proposal was rejected by 67 per cent of the votes.

Some union members had called for a no vote, protesting Boeing Co.’s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs.

Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.

“We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a ‘retirement crisis’ in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity,” Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president, said in a statement.

Boeing had proposed the eight-year contract extension, saying it needs the deal to assemble the new 777X in Washington state.

With the threat of those jobs going to another state, lawmakers rushed to approve $8.7-billion in tax breaks.

“Without the terms of this contract extension, we’re left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X,” Boeing said in a statement.

Gov. Jay Inslee said ahead of the vote that he wanted the machinists to know that the package of incentives doesn’t just protect taxpayers but it also protects workers.

In a late night press conference, Inslee said the rejection means that Washington will have to compete with other states.

He said Washington could have won the production of the plane without competition.

Dian Lord, a toolmaker at Boeing’s facility in Renton, Wash., who is nearing retirement, said she believed the company was extorting its workers by pushing a swift contract vote while threatening to place 777X operations elsewhere if machinists don’t oblige.

Still, Lord said she felt intense pressure to vote for the contract, especially considering that it could impact a variety of other Boeing workers and vendors should the company move elsewhere.

“I’m very conflicted,” Lord said.

Political leaders, including many Democrats who are closely aligned with unionized workers, declined in recent days to encourage machinists how to vote but asked them to consider the broader impact on jobs and future generations.

Union leaders issued a similar message, with Wroblewski saying the vote is about 30 years of jobs for the region.

“This is an opportunity we will never see again to secure thousands of good-paying jobs in the State of Washington,” Wroblewski wrote in a message to members before the vote.

Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said earlier this week that the company was not bluffing in its message that the 777X line could be placed elsewhere.

He said the company prefers to stay in the Puget Sound and that a positive vote by the union makes that decision easy.

Along with extending tax breaks to 2040, lawmakers this past weekend also approved millions of dollars for training programs for aerospace workers.

Lawmakers have also said that Boeing supports the development of a large transportation package, and the Legislature is still exploring a plan valued at about $10-billion.

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