Inslee: Everything’s been done to entice Boeing

EVERETT — Gov. Jay Inslee conceded Tuesday that elected officials have largely done everything they can to entice the Boeing Co. to build the new 777X jetliner in Washington and to get the company and Machinists union to reach a contract agreement.

Negotiations between the two sides broke off last week after Boeing’s latest offer was rejected by local union leaders, whose decision put them at odds with the national leadership of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

“There has not been any progress to report,” said Inslee, who continues talking with both sides. “I’d love to make some news.”

Neither side has ruled out future talks.

Boeing is paring the list of possible sites for 777X fabrication and final assembly this week, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner said in an email to employees Tuesday.

The company received bids for 54 sites in 22 states last week and will make a final decision by early next year.

After Machinists rejected a Boeing contract offer last month, the company requested bids of economic incentives from states for placing its 777X line. The requests came with a nondisclosure agreement. Fearful of jeopardizing their states’ chances, public officials across the country have been mostly silent when asked about the bids.

Washington’s bid is based largely on a tax incentive package worth an estimated $8.7 billion to Boeing over 16 years and increased investment in workforce training. The Legislature passed both measures last month at the urging of Boeing and the Machinists union.

There is “no huge, significant legislative activity required by our offer” outlined in the formal response to Boeing’s more recent request for proposals, Inslee said in an editorial board interview at The Daily Herald on Tuesday.

He would, however, like to be able to tell the Chicago-based company that the state has approved a transportation package, he said.

But Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature still appear too far apart to make that happen before Boeing makes up its mind the 777X. The regular legislative session begins Jan. 13. Boeing has said it will make a decision early in 2014.

Inslee continues to talk every day with both sides, but “I’m not in control of the negotiations,” he said. “I’m just the governor.”

He is part of a chorus that includes many high-profile elected officials, national union representatives and many rank-and-file union members calling for District 751 leaders to send Boeing’s offer to a vote by members.

Inslee, a Democrat, hasn’t taken a position on the contract proposal, trying to balance relations with private business and organized labor.

This week, some labor leaders, including state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, expressed dismay with politicians, including Inslee, who have called for a contract vote by the roughly 31,000 Machinists who work for Boeing in Washington and Oregon.

“I would suggest that those self-same politicians with a pension give it up for a 401(k) and put their money where their mouth is,” Sells wrote Saturday on his Facebook page, which is accessible only to his friends on the social network. He is also a leader of the Snohomish County Labor Council.

Democrats aren’t the only ones publicly feuding over the contract negotiations between Boeing and Machinists. Union officials and members are openly divided as well.

District 751 President Tom Wroblewski has not budged after his decision to reject what the company called its “best and final counter-proposal” last Thursday.

Conner’s email confirmed that the company pushed union leaders to recommend a yes vote to members.

But that was asking too much, Wroblewski said after talks ended last week. The talks included local and national representatives of the IAM and Boeing Commercial Airplanes at its offices in Renton.

Tuesday’s email from Conner clarifies what happened. Wroblewski has said that the company withdrew the offer when told the union’s leadership would not endorse its passage. Boeing said the union had outright rejected the offer but declined to confirm Wroblewski’s description of a stipulation.

“We were sincere in asking for the union leadership’s commitment to support our improved final proposal as a tentative agreement that would be taken to a vote by IAM members with a recommendation for approval,” Conner said.

Boeing’s offer is still on the table, he said.

“We would not back away from an offer we made in good faith to our team. It was a rejection, plain and simple, and we now have to turn and face the reality of the union leadership’s final decision,” Conner said in his message.

If approved, the latest proposal would retain the current wage advancement schedule, keep 737 MAX production in Renton until 2024, improve dental coverage, pay out an additional $5,000 lump sum in 2020 and better define 777X work that would remain in the area as part of the agreement.

Besides the requirement for a yes recommendation, Wroblewski said, he didn’t take the offer to members because it is too similar to one overwhelmingly rejected by union members in mid-November.

But representatives for the national IAM leadership — called the “International” because it has affiliates in the U.S. and Canada — have publicly supported letting District 751 members vote on the contract.

An IAM national spokesman, Frank Larkin, said it isn’t clear that Boeing is requiring a recommendation to approve the contract from District 751 leaders.

“We’re all on the same side here,” Larkin said.

But the “members ultimately should have and will have the final say on this” offer, he said.

At the same time, he said it is possible that Boeing and union representatives will return to negotiations.

“What are called last, best, final offers are often followed by what’s also called last, best, final offers,” Larkin said.

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

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