By Chuck Taylor and Jerry Cornfield Herald Writers
A Boeing Co. proposal to build the new 777X in Washington, in exchange for major concessions by a union and tax breaks from lawmakers, is not cleared for takeoff. In fact, that plane might return to the gate.
The Seattle Times and KING-TV reported that Machinists district President Tom Wroblewski, under fire from the rank and file, Thursday night tore up a copy of a Boeing contract-extension offer, called it “a piece of crap” and said he would try to get a Wednesday vote on the matter cancelled.
Wroblewski leads District 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) and was attending an informational meeting, which the Times described as “raucous,” at the district headquarters in Seattle.
Journalists were not allowed inside, but “shouts, whistles and chants erupted often, and swelling waves of ‘No! No! No!’ periodically rolled out through the doors,” the Times reported.
In a stern written statement issued a few hours later, Boeing said that if the contract “is not ratified per the scheduled union vote on Nov. 13, we will begin taking the next steps” to choose a manufacturing site other than Washington for the company’s new 777X.
In Olympia, where the Legislature has convened a special session, lawmakers Friday were proceeding with Boeing-friendly tax breaks and other measures sought by the company and the union.
At a news conference Friday morning, Gov. Jay Inslee urged members of the Machinists union to think hard about the importance of the aerospace industry and its long-term future to all citizens of the state. “We’re all in the same Boeing plane and we need to land it,” he said.
“We have been fortunate like few other states or communities on the planet for having a vigorous aerospace industry here,” Inslee said. “People all around the world are envious and want to poach these jobs. There are 49 governors who will be calling Boeing after this week” if the contract extension is not ratified.
The governor said he did not plan to intervene in the contract issue, however.
Several lawmakers who had spoken with Boeing representatives Friday said they were led to believe the company and union are talking privately about refining the labor agreement.
This all started when the union on Tuesday unveiled a quietly negotiated contract extension offer by Boeing that would guarantee final assembly of the company’s planned new 777X jetliner in Everett and fabrication of the jet’s carbon-fiber-composite wings in metro Puget Sound. The extension of the contract to 2024 included, however, major takebacks such as the elimination of a traditional pension and higher health-care costs for workers, as well as a tight deadline for approval.
A vote by some 22,000 IAM members had been scheduled for Wednesday at various locations in Washington and Oregon.
It was not clear Friday if the union would indeed withdraw the measure from electoral consideration by the membership.
Reaction by the rank and file on the Internet this week has been almost universally negative. Despite a $10,000 signing bonus and an early retirement option, union members perceive an effort to break the union by dividing longtime workers from newer ones and wonder what the hurry is. The present contract expires in 2016.
Boeing had told the union privately that it would essentially put the 777X final-assembly site and wing work out to bid to other states if workers in Washington rejected the offer. Now that threat is public. In the statement late Thursday night, Boeing said:
“All of our options are still on the table, including those within Boeing and other interest we have received from outside. We chose to engage in Puget Sound first, but without full acceptance by the union and Legislature, we will be left with no choice but to open up the process competitively and pursue other options for locating 777X work. If this is not ratified per the scheduled union vote on Nov. 13, we will begin taking the next steps.”
In Olympia on Friday, lawmakers seemed divided as to how far to proceed with two bills introduced during a special session of the Legislature — one to extend tax breaks for aerospace companies and the other to spend more on aerospace education and training. When the session opened Thursday, the bills had broad support.
The House Finance Committee’s chairman, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, who heard supportive testimony Thursday during a hearing on the tax break, conceded “there’s a concern” among members about developments within the union. But his committee approved the bill 10-3 and sent it to the House and Senate budget committees.
Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said it was going to be hard to ask taxpayers to support the tax breaks and, eventually, a gas tax increase in a transportation package if there is doubt the union will approve the contract extension.
The governor, Wilcox said, “shouldn’t have brought us in here if it wasn’t a cooked deal.”
Rep. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, a member of the 777X Legislative Task Force that laid the groundwork for the special session, said he thought the House would proceed with the two bills. “There was a legislative expectation and we are going to meet it,” he said early in the morning, noting that things could change.
The 777X is a revamped version of the venerable widebody plane. The company is expected to announce formal launch of the program this month at an air show in Dubai.