Union deeply split on Boeing’s 777X offer

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Division and uncertainty within the largest union at Boeing was evident Monday as some local Machinists officials in Everett angrily denounced the company’s proposed contract while their district leader insisted the proposal will preserve aerospace jobs here.

Both Machinists District 751 President Tom Wroblewski and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner spoke at a morning ceremony where Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the legislation passed hurriedly over the weekend to meet some of Boeing’s conditions for building the 777X and its carbon-fiber wing in Washington.

Wroblewski declined to say how he wants members to vote in the crucial 777X decision, while emphasizing , “What’s at stake here is jobs for the future, jobs to build 777X for 20 to 25 years.”

But in the afternoon, some 300 to 400 militant Machinists, led by local union officials, rallied outside the Everett union hall to shout out a resounding rejection of the contract offer that will be voted on Wednesday.

Wilson Ferguson, Local A president, twice tore up copies of the company proposal that has been presented as essential to protect the future of Boeing’s massive Everett plant.

Ferguson lamented the “mixed signals” coming from the union’s district leadership and told the crowd that “the majority of the (union) staff are adamantly opposed to this thing” but have been silenced.

“It’s not a bluff”

Standing near Wroblewski at the signing ceremony, Conner told reporters that if the Machinists reject the company offer, Boeing’s threat to take the work of building its new 777X jet to another state is dead serious.

“It’s not a bluff,” Conner said. “My sincere hope is we don’t have to even think about that. ... Really, we would prefer not to do that.

“Hopefully we’ll get a good vote on Wednesday, then it’s easy,” Conner added. “This is our preference.”

Wroblewski — speaking for the first time in public since a contentious union meeting Thursday night when he was first to rip up a copy of Boeing’s offer and denounced it in vivid terms — called the decision on the vote “very emotional.”

For union members, said Wroblewski, the contract “really changes the way they’ve done things, that they’ve worked hard for many years to get.

“They need to look at this proposal and do what’s right for them, their families and the community.”

“Most importantly, this is about the future,” he added. “It’s about jobs.”

Wroblewski refused to be definitive on how he personally will vote. He said he must make the decision “just like my members,” but then repeated, “It’s about jobs and about the future.”

The legislation Inslee signed provides Boeing tax incentives through 2040, speeds regulatory approval of industrial projects, and adds funding for aerospace training.

With U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and many local politicians looking on, Inslee repeatedly stressed that what’s at stake are some 20,000 Boeing jobs and a total of 56,000 jobs overall, counting jobs created by ancillary services to those Boeing workers, from dry-cleaning to restaurants.

Conner said that with the 777X project, “working together we have the opportunity to do something really special ... the ability to put in place and cement for decades to come good, high-paying jobs.”

He said Boeing is “under siege by our competitors from abroad” and must move quickly on the decision as it prepares a 777X manufacturing plan that will “pump a lot of capital here.”

Boeing has promised to build 1.5 million square feet of new buildings here to do both final assembly of the 777X and also to fabricate its advanced giant wing, made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic composite.

One concern among some union members is that the wording of Boeing’s agreement with the IAM might allow the company to subcontract the wing to a supplier so that it would not be built by Machinists.

On Saturday, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said that won’t happen.

“If this agreement is ratified by IAM employees, 777X wing fabrication and assembly would be performed by Boeing employees at Boeing facilities in the Puget Sound region,” said Birtel.

Angry response

Such assurances were of no interest to the Machinists assembled at the union hall Monday afternoon. A half-dozen union officials came to a microphone, each claiming that the members of their unit are solid in rejecting the company offer.

Robley Evans, a forklift driver from the Auburn plant and a union steward and vice president in the union’s Local F unit, told the crowd Boeing’s proposed eight-year contract extension “completely stinks.”

“I’ve gone on strike for months over contract offers that were way better than this,” he said.

Evans expressed the feeling of many Machinists that Boeing is using the 777X project to force through cuts that it couldn’t negotiate in regular contract talks. He urged members to vote no now and to negotiate with strike power when the current contract runs out in three years.

“In 2016, we’ll have power then,” Evans shouted to the crowd. “Yeah, baby, we'll have power then.”

The leader of the rally, Ferguson, attacked Inslee for supporting Boeing, saying that if the deal went through, Inslee would preside over wage and benefit cuts that would represent “the Wal-Martization of aerospace” in the state.

“It’s all about dividing us and killing the union,” he said.

Ferguson said the union needs to address leadership issues exposed by the contract talks, but that the first priority is to reject the 777X offer.

After a no vote Wednesday, Ferguson said, “we’ll proceed to fix whatever else is wrong with this union.”

His message to Boeing is that the proposal takes away too much that Machinists have fought for: “Don’t hold a gun to my head and tell me it’s a good deal.”

Earlier in the day, Boeing’s Conner insisted the proposal “is not about take-aways.”

While many Machinists are upset about the proposal to cease new contributions to their traditional pension and move to a defined-contribution savings plan, Conner said already-earned pension benefits would be protected.

“The reality is, we’re altering things. We’re not giving up things. Nobody is losing money here.”

He said the new retirement plan would still be better than that offered by many companies.

“We’re trying to ensure our mutual future here in Puget Sound,” Conner concluded. We would like to stay. That’s why we put a long-term deal in place.”

As Conner left the event, not far behind Wroblewski, a radio reporter asked Conner if he was disappointed in the union rhetoric — a reference to the union leader’s emotional dismissal of the company proposal last Thursday.

“I’m used to that,” Conner replied. “We’re OK.”

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