Governor, other leaders urge IAM vote on Boeing 777X offer

The international Machinists union is exploring the possibility of letting members in metro Puget Sound vote on a proposed contract from the Boeing Co., even after local union leaders said they couldn’t recommend it to their members.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) spokesman Frank Larkin said the international union has been hearing from hundreds of members demanding an opportunity to vote on the contract to secure work on the 777X airplane.

More voices were added Friday afternoon when Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Snohomish County elected leaders and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., issued statements.

“Union membership gives each worker a say in his or her future,” Inslee said. “I believe the Machinists should have the opportunity to exercise that right by voting on this contract proposal.”

In a joint statement by Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Snohomish County Executive John Lovick and Port of Everett Commissioner Troy McClelland, who is also CEO of Economic Alliance Snohomish County, also said the IAM should hold an election — and urged union members to vote in favor of Boeing’s offer.

“We strongly urge the proposal be presented immediately to the Machinist membership for their consideration,” the trio said. “Moreover, we urge the Machinists to vote yes on this offer to secure the future of aerospace in the state and our competitiveness worldwide.”

Said Larsen: “I have avoided telling Machinists how and when they should vote, so I hope I have the credibility to make this statement: The time to vote is now.”

“The logistics of a vote are under consideration right now,” Larkin said earlier. But it seemed Machinists District 751 leaders did not agree.

A new round of contract talks collapsed Thursday after local officials with the union district said they could not recommend Boeing’s latest proposal to members. District 751 spokesman Bryan Corliss said Boeing has withdrawn the contract offer.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder, however, said the offer was rejected by the union, not withdrawn by Boeing. He declined further comment.

In an email to the union membership Friday morning, District President Tom Wroblewski wrote:

“Boeing’s offer was only on the table Thursday so long as I agreed to recommend the offer and urge you to vote yes on it. But I could not recommend you accept this offer. When I said we couldn’t do that, Boeing withdrew the offer immediately.

“So there is no offer to vote (on),” Wroblewski said.

When asked whether there was such a stipulation in the company’s offer — that union leaders had to recommend a yes vote — Boeing spokesman Alder declined to answer.

Local union officials have seemed to disagree with their national leaders for weeks on how to handle Boeing’s offers. That division was clear last month, when local union members voted to reject a contract negotiated by IAM leadership.

Boeing and the Machinists have been exploring a deal that would secure the production of the new 777X airplane in Everett and the thousands of jobs that come with it.

This week, Boeing made some changes to its original contract proposal, backing away from a the earlier one, which would have slowed the rate at which employees rise up the pay scale and adding an additional $5,000 in bonus pay. The biggest sticking point appears to be the company’s insistence that workers move from a traditional defined-benefit pension to a defined-contribution savings plan.

The local Machinists said in a statement Thursday night that the company’s latest proposal was too high of a price to pay to secure the 777X.

“Going back to the table was the responsible thing to do,” said Wroblewski in the statement. “We just couldn’t get to an agreement. Again, the price was too high.”

Looming over the talks is the prospect that the company could build the airplane elsewhere. Boeing said it has received proposals from 22 states eager for the 777X jobs, with some proposing multiple sites. The company said 54 sites are now being evaluated.

In its own bid to win the 777X jobs, Washington recently approved tax breaks for Boeing valued at $8.7 billion over coming years, along with legislation to improve aerospace training programs and the permitting process.

The governor expressed concern about this week’s events.

“We’ve heard from some rank and file members and from leadership of the international (union) that the agreement that emerged deserves a vote,” Inslee said. “That should happen soon, as I have become increasingly concerned that we are at a perilous point in our effort to bring the 777X to Washington state.”

Chicago-based Boeing began taking orders for the 777X in May, but it’s still designing the plane and aiming to deliver the first aircraft by the end of the decade. Boeing has said it is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777.

At the Dubai Airshow last month, Boeing received orders for 225 such planes from three airlines.

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