Labor complaint questions timing of Boeing vote

EVERETT — A Boeing worker has filed a complaint with federal labor regulators to delay a contract vote at a time when many workers will be out on vacation.

The complaint says that the national headquarters of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) intentionally scheduled the vote for Jan. 3 to undercut opposition to Boeing’s contract proposal.

The National Labor Relations Board did not respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

The IAM gave District 751, which represents about 31,000 Boeing employees, the OK on Monday to use absentee ballots. But district staff is still working out the system, spokesman Bryan Corliss said.

For Robley Evans, who filed the complaint with the NLRB, using absentee ballots only bolsters his case.

A lot of workers have already left on vacation for the holidays and won’t be back until after the New Year. Boeing shuts down from today until Jan. 2. With weekends on either end, many employees take a few vacation days to get more than two weeks off.

“I’m at work right now, and it’s a ghost town here,” Evans said.

Corliss said union members should check District 751’s website and their email accounts for updates.

But not everyone gets emails from the union or will have access to email or Internet during the holidays, Evans said.

People are going to come back and have little time to really make up their mind on the contract proposal, he said.

Like District 751 leaders, Evans opposes the offer.

Earlier this month, the district’s negotiating team rejected the proposal. District President Tom Wroblewski said it is too similar to the one that members rejected last month by a 2-to-1 margin.

Many union members who voted no said they were upset that the Chicago-based company would demand benefit concessions only from workers and not from executives, and at a time when Boeing stock has hit record highs.

Approving the contract would guarantee final assembly of Boeing’s new 777X airplane in Everett and wing production in metro Puget Sound.

The latest contract offer does improve on the November terms. The eight-year contract would go into effect after the current one ends in 2016. It improved on the earlier offer by keeping the current schedule at which workers move up the pay scale, adding a $5,000 cash payment in 2020 on top of the $10,000 signing bonus and pledges to keep 737 MAX production in Renton to 2024.

But the proposal still includes many concessions, including replacing the traditional defined pension plan and phasing in 401(k)-type retirement plans.

Even though local union leaders are advising members to reject the offer, the IAM constitution gives the international leadership wide discretion to overrule local leadership.

“There’s always that fear that they’re going to come in and take over, because they can do it,” said Wilson “Fergie” Ferguson, a rank-and-file leader.

The local can’t easily break away from the IAM through a process called de-certifying.

“They own everything we have, so if we were to de-cert them, we’d have to start in my garage,” said Ferguson, who works for Boeing in Auburn. He’s also vice president of District 751 and president of the district’s Local A.

He said that IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger should be thrown out.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin on Saturday said Buffenbarger’s main concern is to ensure members have the final say about Boeing’s offer, which it made as a counter-proposal during negotiations earlier this month.

Larkin said IAM leaders expect local staff to cooperate in organizing the vote, even if they have differing opinions about the offer.

He couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

An international taking over a local happens very rarely and usually because of illegal activities or extreme incompetence, said Art Wheaton, a faculty member and labor relations expert at the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “It would not happen over politics.”

With Boeing considering –- or at least threatening -– to move the 777X out of Washington, the divisions likely will only weaken workers’ hands.

“If the local is fighting with the international, that gives them less strength at the table with Boeing,” Wheaton said.

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

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