Boeing and the 777X: next steps

UPDATE: The union has released a detailed summary of the proposed contract extension, and voting will be one day only — on Wednesday, Nov. 13.


The deal struck Tuesday between the Boeing Co. and the Machinists union is a big development, but there are a number of nuts and bolts that need tightening in coming weeks to lock in 777X assembly in Everett and wing fabrication somewhere hereabouts, maybe even at Paine Field.

Here’s what’s in store:

The vote

Details of the agreement were starting to leak out Tuesday, but until the actual proposal is in their hands, it’s tough to tell how the rank and file of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) will receive it. The union has posted a detailed summary of the proposed changes, and voting will occur next Wednesday, Nov. 13.

The contract to be amended actually originated in 2008, then was amended in 2011 when the deal ensuring 737 Max work in Renton was sealed. It is 283 pages long. We’re talking a lot of fine print here. Union members are going to be urged to digest it carefully. And they will.

This union vote will be watched anxiously by plenty of people outside the labor community. Also by the potential buyers of the 777X. Like never before, where and how the plane is built matters a lot to air carriers after the Dreamliner nightmare, and building an airplane assembly line from scratch somewhere warmer and getting it up to speed is not trivial, as Boeing has learned in South Carolina.

But that’s what the company says it will do if IAM members reject the contract.

The politics

On Thursday, the Legislature’s special session gets underway in Olympia. The agenda will include a transportation package, extension of tax breaks for aerospace companies and greater spending on education and training for aerospace workers. Lawmakers will be under pressure — we should say, they ought to be under pressure — to efficiently dispense with their Boeing valentine so as to set a good example for the Machinists who are voting at the same time.

Let’s see a show of hands: Who’s willing to be the party that blows this?

The desert

There’s an artificial deadline hanging over lawmakers. It’s the Dubai Air Show the week after next, from Nov. 17-21.

Some of Boeing’s best 777 customers, and the likely launch customers for the 777X, are in the Mideast and Africa. So everyone expects the company to formally launch the program with a big splash there. (Go ahead: Try to find an official 777X Web page at www.boeing.com. This airplane is totally unofficial at this stage.)

Before Boeing and the IAM unveiled the deal Tuesday, state officials were working furiously to have their ducks in a row before Dubai. There’s nothing magical about an air show when it comes to where Boeing will build a plane. It was simply handy to have a deadline, any deadline, looming. How ironic that the company essentially unveiled its plan before lawmakers acted.

But the mood aboard the Herald’s Boeing Business Jet on the way to the United Arab Emirates will be far more festive if the paint is dry on the 777X deal. We’re looking forward to some indoor downhill skiing before Stevens Pass opens.

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