Pension-holders push Machinists to drop pensions

Machinists in Puget Sound are under pressure to accept a Boeing contract offer that moves them away from pension plans, and much of that pressure is coming from local officials who have that very type of retirement plan.

On Monday, several political leaders gathered in Everett to talk about the importance of Machinists accepting a new contract this week. Of the six local leaders who called on the union members to accept the deal, one is already drawing pension payments while five others are expected to do so upon retirement.

John Lovick currently earns about $150,000 a year serving as Snohomish County’s executive and is separately drawing more than $60,000 in pension payments from his career in the Washington State Patrol, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under public records law.

Lovick said he did not have the expertise to assess the differences between retirement plans and said he didn’t know whether the contract requires the Machinists to surrender a lot. His push to get the contract accepted centered on job security, because Boeing is vowing to produce the new 777X airplane in the region if the contract is approved.

“We want that plane to be built here,” Lovick said. “We want those good jobs to stay in this region.”

Local union leaders are recommending a no vote on the contract because they feel it has too many concessions, and a particular sticking point has been Boeing’s insistence that workers move from a traditional pension plan to a defined-contribution retirement savings plan.

National leaders of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers scheduled a vote for Friday despite the objections of local union officials. Since the Machinists rejected an initial contract offer in November, a total of 22 states have submitted bids to secure work on the 777X.

In a message to union members, local union representatives touted the benefits of a pension plan.

“It is the best retirement security you can have,” they wrote.

Suzette Cooke, the Kent mayor who was among those pushing Machinists to accept the contract, said others in the state have the opposite opinion. She argued that workers can do better in the retirement savings plan and said it gives Machinists greater control over their money.

Cooke is an active member in the Public Employees’ Retirement System, a state pension plan.

Pensions used to be the most common type of retirement benefit, guaranteeing workers a specific monthly payment regardless of lifespan or the volatility of the stock market. Fewer than 9 percent of private sector employers still offer them, while 88 percent of employers opt instead to sponsor 401(k) retirement plans.

The local political leaders have been pushing for a positive vote from the union, arguing that it is necessary to ensure a healthy aerospace industry for years to come. In their press conference Monday, they said a Boeing executive had just told them that work on the 777X airplane’s wing would go elsewhere if Machinists reject the proposed contract this week.

Boeing began offering the 777X this year but is years away from delivering the first aircraft to customers. The company is deciding where that production will take place, and the production facility would bring thousands of well-paying jobs along with it.

Boeing has said the 777X is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777. At the recent Dubai Airshow, the company received orders for 225 such planes.

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