Long lines as Machinists vote today on Boeing offer

EVERETT — Barely a week after it came to light, a contract extension proposed by Boeing is drawing thousands of Machinists to union halls, where they are voting today.

If a simple majority ratifies the offer, the new 777X will be built at Paine Field. The plane’s carbon-fiber-composite wings will be built nearby. There will be labor peace at least until 2024.

But Machinists will give up a traditional pension, pay more for health care and see 1 percent raises every other year, among other changes many oppose.

This morning, the line of people waiting to cast ballots at the union hall near Paine Field was wrapped around the block. People were banging drums, blowing whistles and chanting, “Vote no!” Reporters in search of yes-voters were hard-pressed.

Gant Diede, 25, voted no. “It’s for the future,” he said. “It’s for me. It’s for Washington. It’s for labor across the country.”

Government and business leaders watching from the sidelines have quite a different view.

“If the calculus is the future of the company, the future of the worker, the future of the community, I think the vote becomes pretty easy,” said Bob Drewel, executive director of the Puget Sound Regional Council and a leader of the Washington Aerospace Partnership.

Drewel is urging members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to approve the contract extension. Having pushed for Boeing-friendly legislation passed in Olympia over the weekend, many politicians and business leaders — including Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick — joined Drewel Tuesday in urging a yes vote.

It’s out of their hands now, and it’s clear their advice might not be heeded.

The union has officially claimed neutrality, although its website seems to scream “vote yes!”

On the Internet and on the street, however, those who oppose Boeing’s offer comprise the most vocal segment of some 32,000 members of District 751 in Washington. Most of those in line this morning, when asked, said they were voting no.

That said, the most common prediction by union members and outsiders was that the vote will be close.

“I don’t know if I’m optimistic but I’m hopeful,” said Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance. “Like everyone else, I think it’s going to be really close. But if they think about it, they’ll vote for it.”

Polling at five locations in metro Puget Sound and one in Portland is scheduled to end by 6 p.m. Results are likely after 9 p.m., the union said. It could be well after that, however.

Those going to the polls build all of Boeing’s jetliners — in Washington, anyway. The company says it will seek better terms in some other state if Machinists reject the offer, and one possibility is right-to-work South Carolina, where Boeing has a nascent 787 assembly line.

“Boeing wants to build here,” Lovick said of Washington. “I sat in a meeting last week with Boeing officials and it was clear they want to build the 777X here. They were equally firm on their resolve to start looking for another location if the Machinists vote down the contract.”

Because the present contract doesn’t expire until 2016, there will be no strike. In fact, Boeing and the union could resume contract talks, which had been secret before last week.

Or it might be as the company says — it will put out a request for proposals from other states.

And both those things could happen.

Said Drewel: “I never say it’s over until it’s over.”

Chuck Taylor: 425-339-3429; ctaylor@heraldnet.com.

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