Policy: Labor

Boeing not bluffing, Seattle union says

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Boeing is not bluffing about its plan to move production of its new 777X aircraft out of the state of Washington if it doesn't get a contract with its local machinists union, a spokesman for the Puget Sound-based local told the Washington Examiner. Nevertheless, the spokesman said that the local union still believed workers should reject the manufacturer's latest offer.

In a response that came too late to be included an earlier story on the dispute in Seattle, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 spokesman Bryan Corliss said: "District 751 leadership does not believe Boeing is bluffing." The company is reportedly entertaining offers to locate 777X production in Texas, Oklahoma and other states.

Nevertheless, Corliss also said Boeing's latest contract offer was not significantly different from one the union's members rejected by a two-to-one margin in Nov. 13 vote. It still calls for "drastic concessions," especially on retirement benefits, he said.

District 751 leaders also doubt that the contract would ensure that all production would be done in the Puget Sound region, pointing to language that could allow outsourcing.

Asked about the union's claim, a Boeing spokesman issued a terse statement to the Examiner: "The terms of Boeing's enhanced contract offer to the union stand. Those terms include placing final assembly and wing build of the 777X in Puget Sound. Boeing will honor that contract if ratified."

I wanted to ask Boeing what precisely "final assembly" meant in this context — would the contract allow earlier stages of production to be outsourced? — but the spokesman said they would have no further comment.

Corliss said there was only one substantive change made to the company's contract offer since the November vote: "Boeing withdrew its demand for changes that would have meant our members would have to spend up to 22 years with the company before they would reach maximum pay in their labor grades. (The current contract calls for a six-year period, and the latest offer would keep that intact.) That one change wasn't enough."

He added that Boeing also demanded that District 751's leaders not only endorse the contract but lobby the rank and file to vote for it. "Our leaders said they couldn't do that, so Boeing withdrew the offer."

Still, isn't District 751 worried that Boeing may move production if, as the local wants, its members reject the contract? Corliss indicated that the union believes it would still be able to negotiate in that scenario. He noted that it has a contract with the company through September 2016, meaning that moving production would not mean immediate loss of jobs. The union thinks it could get Boeing to reconsider in the meantime.

"Everything Boeing is looking for in a manufacturing site already exists here in Washington state, including facilities, infrastructure, land, supplier network, workforce training pipeline and — above all — more than 30,000 highly skilled aerospace machinists who are already on the payroll," he said.

IAM's national leadership evidently does not agree with District 751's assessment and intervened Thursday to force the local to hold a vote on Boeing's offer. IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said: "Your union … must take this threat (to move production) seriously," he said.

District 751 members vote on the contract Jan. 3.

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