Machinists union makes a 777X offer to Boeing

After weeks of cold shoulders, the Machinists union and the Boeing Co. are dancing again. The union presented the aerospace giant with a contract proposal Wednesday afternoon with the goal of securing assembly of the 777X in Everett.

In a statement posted online, Tom Wroblewski, president of District 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), said the proposal is meant to “meet the needs of our members while also ensuring the long-term success of the Boeing Co. in Washington state.”

He described the talks as “respectful and constructive” but said the two sides are not close to an agreement. Boeing has declined to comment on the resumption of talks.

Talks began Tuesday in Renton at the headquarters of Boeing Commercial Airplanes and moved quickly from an informal clearing of the air to serious negotiation on Wednesday, when union officials submitted the proposal. Present both days were Wroblewski and commercial airplanes CEO Ray Conner.

Neither side is disclosing the contents of the proposal. Wroblewski said the union expects the company to respond to it on Thursday.

The situation unfolded very quickly. Aerospace industry insiders had expressed doubt that the two sides would even sit down at the same table.

It has been nearly a month since a bitter contract vote pitted rank-and-file union members against their local and international leaders and Boeing. The company wanted major changes to benefits in the present contract, which expires in 2016, but said acceptance would guarantee the company would build the plane in Everett and its carbon-fiber-composite wings in metro Puget Sound.

After members voted down the Boeing contract extension by a 2-to-1 margin, the aerospace giant began a bidding process to find a site to produce the 777X wings and for its final assembly.

That was a low point for Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.

“There didn’t seem to be a path forward where the company and the union were going to sit down and have a conversation,” he said.

Industry insiders and public officials, including Stephanson and Gov. Jay Inslee, have been trying through back channels to get the two sides back in talks, as reported last week by The Daily Herald.

Representatives of the union and the company did just that as competing states, including Washington, submitted proposals Tuesday offering incentives to land the 777X factory.

It isn’t clear if the behind-the-scenes efforts led directly to the current discussions.

“There have been continued conversations over last 24 or 48 hours, but obviously this is an issue that needs to be resolved between the Machinists union and the company,” Stephanson said Wednesday morning.

Boeing has said it will decide where to build and assemble the plane by early next year.

In the union’s statement late in the afternoon, Wroblewski said choosing Washington would be a win for both sides.

“Our members want Boeing to be successful, and Boeing’s best chance of success for the 777X is to build it here, utilizing their skills, experience and dedication,” Wroblewski said. “A business analyst might call our Machinists the high-skill, low-risk solution to Boeing’s manufacturing needs. I’d just call us the best aerospace workers in the world.”

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