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Boeing’s new rewards for investors fuel debate among Machinists
As Boeing unveiled new rewards for its investors, some Machinists planned rallies this week to press for a new vote on the 777X contract.
Seattle Times staff and news services
Boeing boosted its quarterly dividend Monday by 51 percent and authorized a $10 billion share-repurchase plan, the largest in its history.
The move angered some in the Machinists union, whose members are debating whether to hold a vote on a revised Boeing proposal that mixes concessions on benefits and wages with assurances that the 777X would be built in the Puget Sound region.
“Is the Boeing board absolutely tone-deaf, or are they deliberately out to enrage the IAM membership?” said Jim Levitt, a 35-year veteran Machinist at Boeing’s research center by Boeing Field.
“I’m sure this news will go over like a lead balloon on the factory floor,” he added. “All this while Boeing is out to sharply cut the retirement of its hourly workforce.”
Some Machinists plan to rally in favor of a Boeing contract vote, a union member said Monday amid escalating tensions over the handling of negotiations tied to the new 777X passenger airplane.
Mechanic Paul Fritzler said there is growing fear among workers that Boeing is prepared to send work on the forthcoming 777X — and likely thousands of jobs — to another state.
Many workers want a chance to vote on Boeing’s latest offer, even though union leaders have said the contract is too similar to one rejected last month, Fritzler said.
Federal, state and local political leaders also have called for a vote.
Fritzler and his family are organizing a Wednesday rally to show how many Machinists also support that opportunity.
“If there’s a big enough show of support, the union will see that there’s more people that want to vote than they think,” he said.
Another Machinist is organizing rallies at 10. a.m. each day this week at the Auburn union hall to call for a vote.
Union leaders have said there is nothing to vote on because Boeing withdrew its offer. Boeing has said the offer was rejected by the leaders, not withdrawn.
Boeing’s latest offer adds an additional $5,000 in bonus pay and backs away from slowing the rate at which employees move up the pay scale.
However, Boeing has stuck with its push to move workers out of a traditional pension and into a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan.
The company had said approval of its initial offer would assure the plane is built in the Puget Sound region, but Machinists voted down the first contract offer in November.
Boeing immediately began seeking bids from other states. The Chicago-based company said it got proposals from 22 states.
Boeing boosted its quarterly dividend by 51 percent and authorized a $10 billion share-repurchase plan, the largest in its history.
After a Sunday board meeting, Boeing said its quarterly dividend will rise to 73 cents a share from 48.5 cents and will be payable March 7 to shareholders of record as of Feb. 14.
Boeing said its new buyback is in addition to the approximately $800 million remaining from a 2007 repurchase authorization.
“These actions reflect sustained, strong operational performance by our businesses, increasing cash flow and our confidence in the future,” CEO Jim McNerney said.
The share repurchase is the largest in the company’s history, exceeding the $7 billion authorized in 2007, said Boeing spokesman Chaz Bickers.
Boeing has been reaping more cash as it accelerates production of some of its top-selling jetliners, including the single-aisle 737 and the widebody 777 and 787 Dreamliner.
The shares have surged 79 percent this year, the most among the 30 stocks in the Dow Jones industrial average. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up 25 percent.
Material from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News is included in this report.