Inslee meets with angry Machinists union reps

OLYMPIA – Leaders of the Machinists and other unions held a frank conversation with Gov. Jay Inslee Thursday during which they made clear they’ve not forgiven him for pressing Boeing workers into a contract vote which secured the 777X program for the state.

Inslee met with members of the Washington Machinists Council for 35 minutes behind closed doors at a hotel in Olympia. It marked the governor’s first extensive sit-down with labor leaders since the Jan. 3 vote by District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

“It was tense throughout the discussion. It really was,” Larry Brown, political director of District 751 said afterward. “The strength of the relationship has been tested and we have to see what the future brings for that relationship.”

Washington State Labor Council President Jeff Johnson described it as a “good, hard, honest” conversation.

“I believe that the governor got a deeper understanding of the damage he caused to the Machinists union,” he said.

Inslee called it “a real vigorous discussion as friends do. Machinists were not overly subtle.”

“I understand there are some real hard feelings and a lot of residual anger with Machinists about this really difficult position that they and the state of Washington were placed in during the 777X competition,” he said.

The Washington Machinists Council is made up of local unions representing workers in several industries including aerospace, autos and air transportation. Among those attending Thursday was Mark Johnson, aerospace coordinator for the IAM.

Brown said the group’s main question concerned the governor’s public comments urging a vote on the revised eight-year contract extension, after workers rejected the company’s initial offer. Inslee explained that while he did call for a vote, he did not suggest how members should vote, according to Brown.

“Members did not see a distinction between calling for a vote and telling people how to vote,” he said. “We already had a collective bargaining agreement in place, so a call to vote wasn’t a call to vote ‘no.’”

Inslee said he respects Machinists’ “deep feelings about this” but hoped they will be able to work together on such things as training and apprenticeship programs for those who seek union jobs building planes.

“I do believe we need now to move forward,” he said.

Inslee received strong applause at the end of the meeting.

“People were thankful that he had the courage to come and to confront them because he knew he would be in for some tough questioning,” Johnson said. “It’s a long way from being over.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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