IAM head defends decision to force vote on 777X

The head of the Machinists union, Tom Buffenbarger, surprised my colleague and good-natured competitor Steve Wilhelm at the Puget Sound Business Journal on Wednesday when he called Wilhelm for an unexpected interview.

Buffenbarger said he wanted to set the record straight about the Jan. 3 vote on the Boeing Co.’s contract proposal, which cut benefits in exchange for placing 777X work in Washington.

If the contract hadn’t been approved, he said Washington would not have made Boeing’s short list for 777X wing production and assembly sites, which he expected to be finalized Jan. 6.

Buffenbarger feared a no vote would have prompted Boeing to shift as much work as possible out of the state, Wilhem writes.

The president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) told the PSBJ that the airplane maker could have moved production of its U.S. Air Force aerial tanker — a derivative of its 767 jetliner — from Everett to Long Beach, Calif., where C-17 assembly is slated to end in 2016.

If true, that could have made Everett a lonely place in a few years after work on the 777 classic winds down and with the 747 line’s future in question.

Buffenbarger’s comments are surprising. In the run up to the vote, which Buffenbarger forced over local labor leaders’ objections, representatives for IAM’s headquarters in Upper Marlboro, Md., never mentioned the possibility of the Air Force tanker moving, and didn’t indicate that Washington wouldn’t make Boeing’s short list.

Buffenbarger himself failed to mention either in a letter from him to Machinists working at Boeing before the vote.

The Chicago-based company declined to comment on Buffenbarger’s assertion about its short list.

Aerospace analysts repeatedly said Everett is the only location that made economic sense for 777X final assembly, but cautioned that Boeing senior leaders so dislike unions that it was possible that they would pick somewhere out of state.

As for moving the KC-46A aerial tanker program, it might be feasible, but it doesn’t make any sense, said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst and managing director of Issaquah-based Leeham Co.

“If the idea is to get away from the union, why would you move to a union state?” Hamilton said. “There’s no logic to what Buffenbarger said there,” Hamilton said.

But, as Wilhelm notes, Buffenbarger is facing his first actual election since ascending to the IAM presidency in 1997. A slate of candidates called IAM Reform has managed to force the union’s first general election since 1961.

Their effort was aided by the U.S. Department of Labor, which investigated the IAM’s 2013 election and determined that union leaders had stifled competition. Rather than fight the Labor Department, the IAM agreed to run the election again.

In addition, members of District Lodge 751, which represents roughly 32,000 Machinists, most of whom work at Boeing, have filed several complaints with the National Labor Relations Board against the IAM headquarters for its role in the recent Boeing contract talks and vote.

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

More in Herald Business Journal

Teddy, an English bulldog, models Zentek Clothing’s heat regulating dog jacket. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Everett clothing company keeps your dog cool and stylish

Zentek uses space-age fabrics to moderate the temperature of pets and now humans.

Everett engineers learn lessons from Mexico City catastrophe

Structural scientists went to help after the September earthquake there and studied the damage.

Providence said to be in talks for merger with Ascension

The two Catholic health organizations have been exploring joining forces, sources say.

Hospital companies merge as insurers encroach on their turf

An anticipated deal between Providence St. Joseph Health and Ascension is only the latest.

DaVita to sell off medical groups including The Everett Clinic

Another round of health care consolidation means The Everett Clinic could soon get new ownership.

Engine trouble hits Air New Zealand’s 787 Dreamliners

A Rolls-Royce engine was shut down and was afterward found to be seriously damaged.

Washington, Amazon sue company over seller training programs

Braintree is accused of using deceptive ads promising information on how to make money on Amazon.

Lockheed-Martin dominates global arms sales, Boeing is 2nd

The combined sales of U.S.-based companies totaled $217 billion.

The Marine Corps’ version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is designed to land vertically like a helicopter. (Lockheed Martin)
F-35 fighter costs, $1 trillion over 60 years, draw scrutiny

Pentagon’s ability to repair F-35 parts at military depots is six years behind schedule.

Most Read