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Originally published November 7, 2013 at 9:29 PM | Page modified November 8, 2013 at 7:05 PM

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Machinists union leader: Boeing offer ‘a piece of crap’

Machinists are expressing anger at the terms offered by Boeing to win the 777X work for Everett. Boeing said in a statement that the company is ready to "pursue other options" outside Washington.


Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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I own a small business, and my family has a long history of union labor. I hate to say... MORE
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In a dramatic end to a meeting with hundreds of disgruntled Machinists at the Seattle union headquarters Thursday night, District 751 President Tom Wroblewski tore up a copy of Boeing’s contract proposal and said he would try to have it withdrawn.

“I know this is a piece of crap,” Wroblewski said about the proposed new eight-year agreement that Boeing says will determine whether the forthcoming 777X jet is built in Everett.

“I will go to see if this can be withdrawn and not even put to a vote,” he said.

The local union leader spoke from the podium as the intense and raucous meeting came to an end and people filed out. He told members he’ll check whether the union’s bylaws allow the proposal to be pulled so there is no vote next Wednesday.

Boeing did not comment on the meeting except to say in a statement:

“All of our options are still on the table, including those within Boeing and interest we have received from outside. We chose to engage in Puget Sound first, but without full acceptance by the union and Legislature, we will be left with no choice but to open up the process competitively and pursue other options for locating the 777X work.”

Wroblewski was responding to a wave of strong negative feeling in the meeting in South Park, where members of the Local A unit of District 751 heard details of the proposed contract and voiced their opinions.

Some arrived for the meeting carrying large homemade “Vote No” signs, and the opinion of the majority came through loud and clear.

Shouts, whistles and chants erupted often, and swelling waves of “No! No! No!” periodically rolled out through the doors.

According to two people who were inside the meeting, which was closed to the media until the doors flew open at the end, Local A President Wilson Ferguson in an opening speech called for a “no” vote.

Wroblewski was repeatedly called upon to do the same. But he declined to offer a formal recommendation on how to vote, until his emotional declaration as the meeting closed.

Earlier in the day, inside Boeing’s huge Everett jet-assembly plant at lunch time, hundreds of Machinists marched the aisles, some carrying signs, some blowing whistles, making noise and sending a loud, unhappy message to the company.

The chant was “Vote no!”

Members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) who spoke to The Seattle Times on Thursday were overwhelmingly against Boeing’s proposal, which raises their health-care costs and replaces their traditional pension with a defined contribution savings plan.

The contract would also provide wage increases of just 1 percent every other year. In addition, it would lock in a wage structure that would see new hires take as long as 16 years to reach the top of the pay scale, instead of six years under the current contract.

Though Boeing has included a $10,000 signing bonus and also holds out a “golden handshake” retirement option for those over 58, it’s clear many — especially the long-serving veterans — not only disdain those carrots but are angry about the offer.

The anger comes from what they perceive as Boeing’s “take-it-or-leave-it” ultimatum: Vote yes or else the 777X won’t be built in Washington state.

Union sources said Wroblewski told various meetings of the members, including the one on Thursday night, that Boeing executives informed him that if the vote next week fails, the company will put the 777X work out for bid to other states.

“It’s disgusting,” said one Machinist, 58, who asked for anonymity, as did all of the rank-and-file members who talked to a reporter. “We’re willing to negotiate and sacrifice a bit. Meet us halfway and everybody will walk away with heads held high. Instead they are threatening us. The mood right now is that everybody is going to vote no.”

One young Machinist, just two years at the company, said that when union officials showed up in his area Wednesday to hand out fliers with details of the offer, they were swarmed by Machinists thrusting fingers in their faces. Some tore up the fliers on the spot. “I’ve never seen that many angry people,” the young man said. “We have to take this or lose the future of the Everett plant? We have a gun to our heads. A lot of people are very upset.”

He said he listened to more than 100 workmates and just found one person ready to vote yes.

Another Everett Machinist said that one union staff official — a business representative in union terminology — came to his area and advised his work crew to vote no.

Thursday evening at the union hall, IAM officials wouldn’t talk to the media and journalists could not go inside to the meeting.

Jonathan Battaglia, a spokesman for the IAM from its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., who has just arrived in Seattle to handle media, said Thursday afternoon the union is not taking an official position on how its members should vote.

But local Machinists are not shy about what they think. Many believe that Boeing is bluffing and will come back with a better offer if this one is rejected.

“Do you think the airline customer is going to want this plane built somewhere else where there’s no expertise?” said the 58-year-old.

“If we accept this, Boeing is going to roll over us and break this union,” he added. “Anytime they say jump, we’ll have to say, ‘How high?’ ”

Nevertheless, a few thought Boeing’s sweeteners, especially the $10,000 signing bonus payable before Christmas, could possibly entice enough of the younger Machinists to accept the offer — assuming a vote takes place next week.

“Boeing is trying to go for 51 percent,” said another Machinist, age 50. “It’ll be close.”

Even one 44-year-old Machinist who intends to vote yes — who said “we cannot afford to let one more airplane program leave this state” — agreed that around him at work “the temperature right now is at the boiling point.”

Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com



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