IAM president: Heat from Airbus behind Boeing offer

The president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) says that catching up with the Airbus A350-1000 drove Boeing’s board of directors to seek a swift contract extension with the union to ensure the new, comparable 777X could be produced at a fast rate to satisfy customer demand.

In a Friday interview with the Reuters news service, IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger said the company saw that the rival Airbus plane, which is in flight test, was developed “a lot more smoothly than was anticipated. So they see stiffer competition now arriving earlier rather than later.”

The A350 program is about two years ahead of the 777X program, which is to be formally announced at the Dubai Airshow, which begins Sunday.

Members of Seattle-based IAM District 751 on Wednesday rejected the contract extension by a 2-to-1 vote margin. Boeing now says it will explore siting final assembly and wing fabrication outside Washington — although Everett is not out of the running. The contract extension would have guaranteed 777X work in Washington.

In the Reuters interview, Buffenbarger concedes the union is now in “a precarious situation” but doesn’t intend to approach Boeing to resume talks. The existing contract runs until 2016. “The ball is in their court,” he said of the company.

For its part, Boeing has said it doesn’t plan to revisit the IAM talks, either.

The secret negotiation of a possible contract extension began in early October, Buffenbarger told Reuters. Boeing Commercial Airplanes President and CEO Ray Conner and Stan Deal, vice president of supply chain management, represented the company. On the union side were Buffenbarger, aerospace coordinator Mark Johnson, recently retired general vice president Richard Michalski and Tom Wroblewski, president of District 751.

Buffenbarger praised Wroblewski “for putting the proposal to a vote because it showed what Boeing needs to offer to extend the contract and avoid the risk of strike when the current labor deal ends.” Reuters said.

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