State perks set, now union to vote on Boeing 777X offer

EVERETT — A couple hundred Machinist union members held an unofficial rally Monday outside their union hall near Paine Field to protest a contract extension offer negotiated in secret by the Boeing Co. and the union’s international leadership.

The message: Boeing’s promise to build the 777X in Everett, in exchange for significant changes in retirement and health benefits, among other things, will undercut the union and is a bluff by the Chicago-based company’s leadership.

“They’re trying to kill us. Period,” said Wilson Ferguson, a delivery mechanic on the 737 line in Renton and president of Local A. “At the end of the day, all we have is solidarity.”

He and other speakers at the rogue rally, which wasn’t organized or sanctioned by union leadership, said they think the roughly 32,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) throughout Washington and in Portland, Ore., will reject the contract extension on Wednesday.

Officially, the union is neutral on the contract offer.

Several speakers pointed out that the current contract doesn’t expire until 2016 — that there’s time to negotiate — and they urged members not to throw away their pensions.

And they suggested that Boeing is bluffing when it says it will take 777X work elsewhere in the absence of an IAM contract extension.

“No deal, Boeing,” one rally participant’s sign said.

Several union members said they were most upset that the deal takes away pensions for newer members and that it was negotiated in secret and suddenly unveiled last week.

They were “blindsided by economic blackmail,” said Jennifer Robins, a mechanic on the 767 tanker line who has worked at Boeing for six years.

Earlier Monday, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a lengthy extension of a multibillion-dollar tax break to help convince Boeing to place 777X work here.

Inslee also signed a bill that will immediately pump millions of dollars into educating and training new workers for the aerospace industry.

Both bills were passed on Saturday during a special session of the Legislature.

In the afternoon, first-shift workers converged on the IAM District 751 Lodge at 8729 Airport Road in Everett. It was a rogue rally in the parking lot, not sanctioned or publicized by the union, organized online at www.751voteno.com.

Machinists in meetings and in posts on the Internet have complained that the contract extension is onerous and is presented as non-negotiable, with unnecessary urgency. The proposal would end the union’s traditional pension in favor of a 401(k)-type retirement plan. It would also increase the cost workers’ share of health care coverage.

If the extension is not approved by a simple majority of IAM voters, work will proceed as usual at Boeing factories in Everett, Renton, Auburn and Frederickson, at least until 2016.

Boeing has said rejection of the contract extension would prompt it to shop the 777X final-assembly line, as well as carbon-fiber-composite wing fabrication, to other states, or it might place the work at one of its existing facilities elsewhere, such as North Charleston, S.C., where a second 787 line is in operation. The company calls the proposal “market-leading pay, retirement and health care.”

The company also had demands for state leaders, who have fulfilled many of them — again, with urgency.

The tax-break bill signed by the governor is worth an estimated $8.7 billion over 16 years. It extends existing tax breaks, set to expire in 2024, to 2040 — the anticipated manufacturing period for the 777X. It is contingent on Boeing siting the program in Washington state by June 30, 2017.

The new law also makes clear that the preferential business-and-occupation tax rate would disappear if final assembly, wing assembly or wing fabrication of the 777X and future versions are moved outside of the state.

The second bill pumps $17 million into education and training of future aerospace workers. It includes $8 million for 1,000 new enrollment slots in community and technical colleges and $1.5 million for enlarging the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field in Everett.

The Wednesday vote by Machinists cast a long shadow at the bill-signing ceremony. IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski and Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner attended.

“I know that change is not easy, but by working together we have the opportunity to put something in place, to cement for decades to come good high-paying jobs for many, many years,” Conner said.

He said the company is “under siege” from international competition and “this is our opportunity to win and to win big.”

Conner told reporters that if the Machinists reject the company offer, Boeing’s threat to take the 777X work to another state is dead serious. “It’s not a bluff,” Conner said. “My sincere hope is we don’t have to even think about that. … Really, we would prefer not to do that.”

Wroblewski declined to give his opinion on the contract extension and said it was a very emotional decision for members. Echoing a letter he sent to IAM members, he said they need to consider what’s best for their families, including their grandchildren.

“What’s at stake here is jobs for the future — jobs to build the 777x for 20 to 25 years,” Wroblewski said.

While he didn’t endorse the contract extension, Wroblewski wrote union members: “The state Legislature has done its job, and now it’s our turn.”

For its part, Boeing on Monday launched a website that lays out its proposal on its own terms at www.boeing.com/iam-agreement.

Herald news services contributed to this report.

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

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