Local leaders: 777X wing work hinges on IAM vote

EVERETT — Western Washington political and business leaders had a sobering message for the Machinists union on Monday: Rejecting the Boeing Co.’s latest contract offer will mean losing thousands of jobs and risk the future of the state’s aerospace industry.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner told the leaders during a meeting earlier in the day that if Machinists vote no on Friday, the company will not build the carbon-composite wings of the new 777X airplane in Washington, and the plane’s final assembly also might be moved out of state.

The current version of the 777 has been built at the company’s Paine Field factory in Everett for almost 20 years.

A Boeing spokeswoman would not confirm or deny the conversation with local leaders. The company did put out a statement, however, saying that Friday “will be the last opportunity for the union to vote on a contract prior to Boeing making a decision on the 777X site.”

If the contract is approved, the company has promised, it will assemble the new version of the plane in Everett and build the wings in a 1.2-million-square-foot plant somewhere in the metro Puget Sound region.

Local Machinists leaders, though, expect union members will reject the offer, which, they say, is laden with benefit concessions.

“The decision of where Boeing builds its plane shouldn’t be put on the backs of our members,” said Connie Kelliher, a spokeswoman for District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). The district represents about 31,000 Machinists working at the Chicago-based aerospace giant in Western Washington and Portland, Ore.

Elected officials from Everett, Renton, Kent and Snohomish County on Monday urged IAM members to approve the contract.

“This is a linchpin time,” said Bob Drewel, head of the Washington Aerospace Partnership.

The 777X’s composite wings represent the future of airplane production, so if they aren’t built here, the area could lose its competitive edge, the officials said at a news conference.

“We have an opportunity to either grow the aerospace industry here in Everett, here in Snohomish County and here in the state of Washington,” Drewel said. “Or, unfortunately and conversely, we will watch that industry shrink in front of us.”

District 751 leaders are recommending that members reject the contract offer, which, they say, forces workers to give up too much. The changes include replacing a defined pension plan with a defined contribution plan.

The public officials defended the Boeing offer, saying that if it’s approved, Boeing would still pay Machinists an above-market rate. “I think it’s a good contract,” Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said.

“We want them (Machinists) to make the decision that’s going to benefit this region,” he said. “And this contract would mean jobs in this region.”

The group noted that Boeing improved on a previous offer, which union members rejected in November by a 2-to-1 margin.

But the new contract offer is still a significant step down from the current one, which runs through 2016, several Machinists said.

“We’re just trying to fight for a middle class life and to provide for our families,” said Robley Evans, a Machinist at Boeing.

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

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