Boeing machinists plan ‘vote no’ rally

EVERETT — Machinists union members opposed to the latest contract offer from the Boeing Co. are planning a “Vote No” rally the day before the Jan. 3 election.

Organizers say they hope to get a thousand workers to turn out at the Seattle headquarters of District Lodge 751, which represents more than 31,000 Machinists who work for Boeing in Washington.

Union members opposed to the contract have had difficulty communicating with other members, many of whom are out of town during Boeing’s winter break, which started just before Christmas and ends Jan. 2.

Meanwhile, the man who ordered the vote, President Tom Buffenbarger of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said Thursday in an open letter to union members that the offer’s terms are worth $1 billion more than an earlier contract proposal members rejected in November by a 2-to-1 margin.

Machinists opposed to the contract say it’s worth far less than their existing contract, which runs through 2016.

Boeing wants them to accept new terms for 2016 through 2024 that would scrap traditional pension plans for defined contribution plans. The company dropped an earlier proposal to slow the rate at which employees moved up the pay scale, added a $5,000 cash payout in 2020 and improved dental coverage.

Boeing said that if the contract is approved, it promises to build the 777X and its wings around the Puget Sound area, and keep 737 MAX production in Renton through 2024.

“I believe this represents a ‘significant’ improvement worthy of the membership’s consideration,” Buffenbarger said in the letter. “The total value of the Company’s current proposal is nearly $5 billion as of today’s calculations.”

While Buffenbarger didn’t recommend that members vote for or against the contract, he praised the terms and underscored the company’s threat that it could build its new 777X airplane outside Washington.

“Some may believe this is a ‘fake’ play by the Company. Your union, based upon information that indicates otherwise, must take the threat seriously,” he said.

More than 20 states have been trying to land the 777X production facilities and more than 7,000 well-paying jobs. Some have offered huge tax breaks to Boeing potentially worth billions of dollars.

Given that, “the timeline for the Puget Sound area is expiring,” Buffenbarger said.

District 751 leaders are helping run the election, but they are also recommending members reject the contract offer. It is too similar to the terms overwhelmingly rejected by members in November, District President Tom Wroblewski said in a statement posted on the district website.

Many union members opposed to the offer have also said they believe the contract is written with loopholes that allow Boeing to outsource or contract out a lot of the work.

With many members still on their own scheduled vacations on Jan. 3, District 751 announced Friday that it has contracted with a third-party vendor to provide absentee ballot voting.

On Monday, a union member, Robley Evans, filed a complaint with federal labor regulators against the IAM leaders to delay the vote a few days to make sure more members could participate. He alleged that the IAM scheduled the vote just after the winter break to undercut opposition to the contract.

“They’re basing their whole thing on fear. That’s all they have,” Evans said. “If you look at the contract, it’s horrible. How do you get people to accept something horrible? Fear.”

But the vote can’t be delayed, because the National Labor Relations Board doesn’t have enough time to investigate the complaint before Jan. 3, said Brian Sweeney, a deputy regional attorney in the agency’s Seattle office.

“Charges of this nature are typically accorded a number of weeks to give all parties ample time,” he said.

Evans said he plans to pursue his complaint after the vote.

The NLRB hasn’t started collecting or evaluating evidence, so any talk about the outcome is purely speculative, Sweeney said.

“Whatever we do — assuming there is a violation — will be driven by whatever facts are uncovered during the investigation and by the applicable law,” he said.

The charge is unusual, but not unheard of in labor law, Sweeney said.

“Under the law the union has a wide range of discretion when they’re representing their employees,” he said.

Depending on what the investigation finds, one important question could be “whether or not the union has abused its discretion by holding this vote on the third.”

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com.

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