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After contract deal, what happens now at Boeing?

Machinists can cast their ballots from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

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By Michelle Dunlop
Herald Writer
Published:
Union leaders were busy Thursday answering questions posed by Machinists on a four-year contract extension with the Boeing Co.
If ratified, the contract ensures that Boeing will build its re-engined 737 MAX in Renton and gives Boeing the piece of mind that no labor strikes will take place until at least 2016. The deal, announced Wednesday, also makes a troublesome court case against Boeing disappear.
The Machinists' contract with Boeing wasn't set to expire until 2012. Recent talks between Boeing and Machinists leaders were secret, catching many members off guard. In the past, contract negotiations between the Machinists and Boeing haven't gone smoothly, with the union striking the last two times.
On Thursday, Connie Kelliher, a spokeswoman for the Machinists, was preparing a set of responses to frequently asked questions about the contract to post on the local Machinists' website. Kelliher said questions about the four-year deal were as varied as the union's members. However, members often sought more information about a few items in the contract: changes to health care costs; a newly introduced incentive program; and a proposed Boeing-Machinists council.
The union plans to mail members' voter eligibility cards Friday. Machinists can cast their ballots from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday at local union halls in Everett, Renton, Auburn and Seattle. Machinists in Frederickson will vote at the Pierce County Skills Center.
Union leaders unanimously have recommended that members accept Boeing's contract. Although the 737 MAX will be built in Renton, Kelliher pointed out that some wiring and interiors work on the existing 737 is done in Everett.
Boeing spokesman Tim Healy said there are many reasons for Everett Machinists to vote for the contract, including that it guarantees 737 MAX fabrication and assembly work in the region. The deal forges a closer relationship between the union and company.
"This changes the fundamental way the company and the union work together," he said.
Wall Street certainly likes the idea of a tentative agreement between the jet maker and its union. The company's stock rose $3.43, or 5.3 percent, on Wednesday, and another $2.29, or 3.3 percent, on Thursday to close at $70.98. Boeing shares have increased $6.45 since Monday.
Boeing got back to business as usual Thursday in South Carolina -- the site of the company's controversial 787 second assembly line. The National Labor Relations Board has sued Boeing on behalf of its Machinists, alleging the company illegally retaliated against its Puget Sound region Machinists for strikes when it put work in North Charleston. Boeing denied the charge. The union will ask the case to be dropped if the contract is ratified.
The company opened Thursday its North Charleston interiors fabrication facility, where Boeing workers will manufacture 787 stow bins, closets, overhead rests for crew and partitions. The first set of interiors built at the new site will be handed over to the North Charleston 787 final assembly factory in 2012.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Wednesday called the agreement between Boeing and its Machinists a "win" for the company.
"This needed stability for one of the best companies we have is a huge lift for Boeing employees in our state as we look to celebrate their production of the first South Carolina Dreamliner in the near future," Haley said.
Political leaders in Washington state on Wednesday similarly had celebrated the stability that Boeing and the Machinists' agreement would provide to the state's economy.
Haley went on to say that the deal only confirms that the labor board is "nothing more than a rogue agency" and that when "feds attack a company in South Carolina they can expect us to fight back, and expect us to win."
Lafe Solomon, general counsel for the labor board, called Boeing and the Machinists' tentative deal "a very significant and hopeful development."
Should the Machinists vote to accept Boeing's contract offer, the process of dropping the case against Boeing could go fairly swiftly, said Nancy Cleeland, spokeswoman for the labor board. The Machinists would need to send a letter to the board asking the charges against Boeing be withdrawn. Solomon could ask the administrative law judge to send the case back to the labor board's regional office, where it would be dropped by the regional director.
"This kind of thing happens all the time," Cleeland said.
However, before asking the case be withdrawn, Solomon would need make sure the agreement between Boeing and the Machinists addresses the issue of jobs. The chance of Solomon rejecting the deal is "extremely unlikely," Cleeland said. She was unaware of any previous cases in which the labor board rejected a settlement deal between the parties involved.

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