Lawmakers climb aboard 777X, Machinists seethe

OLYMPIA — Boeing made a 777X offer Washington lawmakers and the governor say they can’t refuse.

Not so the Machinists.

There is widespread unrest in union ranks over a concession-filled contract extension Boeing is demanding in exchange for a promise to build the new jetliner in the state.

Some of the 22,000 members of District 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) want to negotiate any proposal and are trying to postpone a vote planned for next Wednesday. They unleashed frustration at a meeting Thursday night in Seattle, which ended with district President Tom Wroblewski vowing to seek a delay or cancelation of the vote.

But Friday came and went without any change in plan. In fact, it came and went without any official comment whatsoever from union leaders.

Local IAM leaders referred questions to national IAM leaders, who reportedly initiated negotiation of the proposed eight-year extension which was announced last Tuesday. No one from the national office in Maryland returned phone calls or emails.

Boeing offered Machinists a $10,000 singing bonus and an early retirement option, but union members don’t like the elimination of a traditional pension, increased health-care costs or the tight timeline for approving the offer, among other things.

Meanwhile, the uproar reverberated in Olympia, where the Legislature is in special session to pass tax breaks and other bills Boeing has also asked for in exchange for landing the 777X in Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee insisted Friday that the state must press ahead on the bills and 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 so we can get to work,” he said. “There are 49 governors that will be calling Boeing if in fact this bill doesn’t go through this week.”

Inslee, a Democrat, received strong support from labor unions in his 2012 election. He acknowledged workers face a difficult decision, then all but endorsed the company offer.

“It is legitimate that people have strong passions and will take time to look at this contract,” he said. “The Machinists’ families will make decisions that are good for their individual circumstances. But I can say unequivocally that an agreement between Boeing and the Machinists is a good thing for the state of Washington.”

The governor said he did not plan to intervene in the contract issue.

Lawmakers today were expected to uphold their end of the bargain by approving the bills to extend tax breaks worth billions of dollars for Boeing and to expand aerospace education and worker training.

“Whether it’s today or a month from now, creating incentives to keep aerospace alive in the state and expanding workforce opportunities is good policy,” said Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn.

Rep. Norma Smith, R-Clinton, said acting now might encourage rapprochement between the company and union.

“I’m hopeful that they see we’re serious about fighting for their jobs,” she said.

They might then adjourn without satisfying one other Boeing desire — a transportation package that would include a gas-tax increase. Democrats and Republicans are far apart on the size and scope of a potential roads plan. Any agreement is weeks away, said lawmakers from both parties.

Some wanted to hold off until after workers vote on Wednesday, but most want to move ahead because the policies are not controversial and would likely get passed at some point in the future.

Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes, said whatever lawmakers do is of far less importance to Boeing than how Machinists vote next week.

“In a lot of ways, anything the Legislature is doing is sort of like icing on the cake for signing the deal,” said Morris, who is a member of the governor’s 777X Task Force, which laid the groundwork for the special session. “If the Machinists vote the contract down, it does not matter what we do.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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