SEATTLE - After a high-pressure campaign from area politicians and Boeing and over unanimous opposition from the local union's leaders, Machinists who work for Boeing in the Puget Sound area, around Portland, Ore., and in Wichita, Kansas, narrowly approved an eight-year contract extension, from 2016 through 2024, with the giant aircraft maker. The ratio was 51 - 49 percent.
Boeing strongly pushed the extension offer, and Machinists President Thomas Buffenbarger told District Lodge 751, which represents the aircraft manufacturer's 31,000 IAM workers, to hold the Jan. 3 vote. He did not outright endorse the extension, but hailed the result, which keeps construction of the firm's new 777X passenger aircraft - and the jobs building its wings and fuselage - in the Pacific Northwest.
"IAM members have built Boeing aircraft in Puget Sound for more than 60 years. This agreement assures they'll continue building them for decades to come," said Buffenbarger.
"After weeks of robust debate, IAM members at Boeing made decisions they felt were in the best interest of their careers. Despite individual differences, I believe this vote preserves thousands of good-paying IAM jobs, while assuring the success of the 777X program."
The workers rejected another Boeing offer, in November, by a two-to-one ratio. Lodge 751 leaders, then and in the January vote, opposed the contract extension because it ends Boeing's contributions to their current, traditional defined benefit pension plan, and freezes it for present members. It also bars new workers from joining that plan, replacing it with a 401(k).
Boeing sweetened the pot with thousands of dollars in bonuses per worker and, more importantly, by saying that ratification of the extension would keep up to 10,000 jobs in the Pacific Northwest, with workers there building the 777X. And some of the Wichita aircraft construction jobs would move to Seattle. Buffenbarger estimated the value of the revised extension at $5 billion over eight years.
Had the extension lost, Boeing planned to accept offers - some of them lavish - from other states to transfer the 777X work. For example, labor and business joined to convince the Republican-dominated Missouri legislature to offer a $3.5 billion package to transfer the 777X work to the unionized Boeing plant in St. Louis.
Washington state officials countered with $8.7 billion in "incentives" for Boeing and high-profile political support for the contract extension. But almost half of IAM workers were upset - and comments on IAM 751's website showed it.
Lodge 751 member David L. Sweet responded: "This is a dark day for this union and this company...This is total garbage. The long arm of Boeing can buy anything."
"There's plenty of aviation work in the world," Kevin Flynn, an aviation maintenance technician inspector, told local media. He filed a complaint against the national IAM with the National Labor Relations Board for ordering the vote after the first extension bid lost. "I'll just have to move to where the work is."
"Our members have spoken and this is the course we'll take," said an unhappy Lodge 751 President Tom Wroblewski. Local leaders unanimously opposed approving the extension.
"All along we knew that our members wanted to build the 777X, and that it was in Boeing's best interest to have them do it. We recommended our members reject the offer because we felt the cost was too high, in terms of our lost pensions and thousands of dollars in additional health care costs we'll have to pay each year," he added.
"You need to look at the facts of the economic destruction you would have to live under for the next 11 years, without any opportunity to change any provisions of the contract," the lodge president and the union bargainers warned Lodge 751 members in a letter before the Jan. 3 vote.
"We also want to point out Boeing's ultimatum demanding these concessions comes at a time when the company is experiencing record profits and backlogs, not to mention the $10 billion stock buyback the Boeing board approved just this last week.
"There's no clear statement of work, and the language in the Boeing proposal clearly states the company reserves the right to subcontract or outsource 'certain 777X work packages in whole or part,'" their letter added. "Boeing leaders have told us they do not intend to use any of our current wing line mechanics to do 777X wing work, which will directly affect all of you who build wings.
"Boeing's proposals on pay and benefits will mean decreases in your take home pay. Your monthly health care premiums will go up at least 10 percent each year, while you'll see guaranteed wage increases averaging only 0.5 percent from 2016 to 2024."
Photo: Boeing company plant. Reed Saxon/AP