An outsider looking in at the Boeing Machinists’ contract vote

Lots of us shook our heads. That was in mid-November, after Machinists union members soundly rejected a Boeing Co. contract proposal that could have anchored the new 777X project in Everett.

Never having walked in the shoes of those Boeing workers, some of us saw that vote and thought, “Really? Who says no to a sure thing?”

On Nov. 13, a whopping 67 percent of Boeing Machinists said no. The offer would have meant the end of traditional pensions, costlier health coverage and very modest raises through 2024.

And some of us who have never walked in the shoes of Boeing workers thought that was it, didn’t we?

Online reader comments on Herald writer Dan Catchpole’s article about the November vote shows that’s exactly what some folks thought — that it was over. One commenter called Boeing’s Everett plant “the largest soon to be homeless center in the world.”

Yet here we are, more than a month and a half later. Machinists union members will vote again Friday — on a proposed contract that’s at least somewhat better than the last one.

The latest offer still has major take-aways. Like the one voted on in November, it includes 401(k)-type retirement plans and the phasing out of traditional defined pensions. According to a Dec. 21 Herald article, the new offer would keep the current schedule at which workers move up the pay scale, add a $5,000 payment in 2020 to the $10,000 signing bonus, and maintain 737 MAX production in Renton until 2024.

I have neither the chance nor the right to vote Friday with Boeing Machinists. They’re getting plenty of advice without hearing mine.

“Vote Yes,” said a full-page ad on the back of The Herald’s A section Thursday. A group calling itself Washington’s Aerospace Future is responsible for that ad. The group’s website, www.keepbuildinghere.com, lists the parties behind the ad. They are former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel; Matt Yerbic, president and CEO of Aviation Technical Services; Kirk Adams, president and CEO of Lighthouse for the Blind; John Theisen, president and CEO of Orion Industries; and the Everett Community College Foundation.

Here’s a statement from Washington’s Aerospace Future: “We are not affiliated with or employed by Boeing or the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, although we view both the company and the union as essential to the future health and prosperity of our communities.”

As much as I support that thought, I find myself standing back — just a bit — from the “Vote Yes” bandwagon.

Given the chance, I likely would have voted yes on that first Boeing contract deal, the one in November. Without the “no” vote in November, there would have been no slightly better offer — no chance for union members to vote againFriday.

I can’t count how many times in the past month I have heard someone say that hardly anyone has a traditional pension anymore, except government workers. Well, Boeing workers do.

What if they had always voted yes? Would Boeing workers have kept significantly better benefits than the rest of us have without being united, or tough? Profit-making companies don’t hand out employee benefits out of the goodness of their hearts.

This is my 33rd year at The Herald. I have never been in a labor union. I chose to stay despite the losses of some benefits — including a traditional pension that was in place when I started. Some former co-workers have left the newspaper for higher pay or better health insurance. They voted with their feet.

I have never walked in the shoes of Boeing workers, who possess a different kind of power over their future.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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