Machinists vote today on Boeing contract extension

By Michelle Dunlop Herald Writer

Machinists have a lot riding on their votes today as they decide whether to accept a contract extension with the Boeing Co.

At stake for the Machinists: work on Boeing’s 737 MAX. For Boeing, the deal would rid the company of an ongoing federal labor dispute.

Both sides, as well as the Puget Sound region, would get the benefit of labor peace for the next five years. During the last round of contract negotiations in 2008, the Machinists struck Boeing for 57 days, effectively shutting down jet production.

Machinists union leaders have recommended their 29,000 members in the region approve the deal, which would extend their contract to September 2016. Union leaders say the contract addresses their members’ top concern: job security.

Earlier this year, Boeing said it hadn’t decided where it would build its re-engined 737 MAX jet. For decades, the company has assembled the existing 737 aircraft in Renton. Boeing has more than 700 commitments for its new 737 MAX jet, which was launched in August.

“If our employees ratify a new agreement, building the 737 MAX in Renton will secure a long and prosperous future there,” Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, said in a statement.

Boeing’s contract offer includes 2-percent annual wage increases, a $5,000 signing bonus and an incentive program. It also preserves the pension plan and early retiree medical benefits for existing and new Machinists — both are benefits Boeing previously sought to eliminate. However, the contract will increase the cost of health insurance to union members.

On Tuesday, Machinists spokeswoman Connie Kelliher noted that the economy’s in much tougher shape in 2011 compared to when the contract was being negotiated in 2008. The union asked for larger wage increases in 2008 because the Machinists hadn’t received pay raises with the previous contract.

“Negotiations are about give and take and to achieve gains in job security, pension and wages, we had to be willing to compromise elsewhere,” union leaders wrote in a message to Machinists.

Part of that compromise includes asking the National Labor Relations Board to drop its lawsuit against Boeing. At the union’s request, the labor board has accused Boeing of illegally retaliating against the Machinists for strikes by putting 787 work in South Carolina. Boeing denied the charge.

The contract also would establish a joint council with union and Boeing leaders working together on issues the company faces. Union leaders say the council will “foster a better working relationship between the company and the union.”

Labor peace is something local government and business leaders view as a good thing for the economy. In its monthly home sales report released Monday, the Northwest Multiple Listing Service pointed to job security at Boeing as a good sign for the Puget Sound region’s housing market.

Machinists contract vote

When: Polls open 5 a.m. to 6 p.m today.

Where: Machinists’ hall, 8729 Airport Road, Everett.

Who: About 16,000 Everett Machinists are eligible to vote.

Results: To be announced around 9 p.m.