Mayors, other officials urge Machinists to take Boeing offer
Elected officials spoke in favor of the contract that has divided Machinist union members and leaders, saying future jobs are at stake.
Seattle Times business reporter
Several local political leaders, fresh from a morning meeting with Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner, Monday urged Machinists union members to vote Friday in favor of the contract offer that has deeply divided them.
“We have an opportunity to either grow the aerospace industry here in Everett, here in Snohomish County, and here in the state of Washington,” said former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel. “Or, unfortunately and conversely, we will watch that industry shrink in front of us.”
The officials — who also included Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Renton Mayor Denis Law, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick — said Conner told them rejecting the offer means the large composite wing of the 777X will be constructed elsewhere.
If the contract is approved, however, the plane will be assembled in Washington and the wing will be built here as well, Conner told the group.
Drewel said the composite wing is a critical new technology Washington needs in order to keep its aerospace industry alive and competitive.
“The upside of all this is if the wing and the plane are built here, it is 20,000 jobs and $20 billion over the course of the development and building the plane,” he said.
The downside, the officials said, is if the wing is not built in Washington, it likely will mean that future airplane production will not be either, and Washington’s future in the aerospace industry could be at risk.
Boeing did not address what would happen to the fuselage assembly work if Machinists vote to reject the contract, the officials said.
The company, which builds current versions of the 777 in Everett, has conducted a well-publicized national process soliciting alternative offers to locate both the wing plant and 777X assembly.
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder declined to comment on Monday’s meeting, but said Friday’s vote will “be the last opportunity for the union to vote before Boeing making a decision on the 777X site.”
Many Machinists and local union leaders oppose Boeing’s revised contract offer because it still removes a traditional pension in favor of a 401(k)-style retirement plan.
The proposal would also extend their current contract from 2016 to 2024, locking in annual wage increases that average one-half percent (plus a cost-of-living adjustment).
Machinists voted 2 to 1 on Nov. 13 to reject Boeing’s first proposal. The company later improved some elements of its contract offer, and national union leaders scheduled another vote — despite objections from local union leaders.
Mayors Stephanson and Cooke strongly encouraged Machinists on Monday to consider the 401(k)-style retirement plan and vote to accept the contract offer.
Stephanson said that even though the retirement plan is different from what the Machinists are used to, they would still have a very competitive benefits package.
“There are people around this region who would love to have that kind of a contract,” Cooke said. “It is a great contract.”
Stephanson said he is not worried about backlash from the labor community, like what Gov. Jay Inslee received after suggesting the Machinists should vote on Boeing’s revised contract although their local leadership opposed a vote.
“We are doing what we think is right by standing up for the workers and their jobs,” Stephanson said after Monday’s news conference.
Union members, on the other hand, feel they are getting pressure from all sides to accept Boeing’s offer, said Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for International Association of Machinists’ District 751 in Seattle.
“Boeing’s decision is to decide where to build the wing and the 777X, and our members’ decision is whether or not to allow our pension and our middle-class lifestyle to be ripped from us,” she said.
Robley Evans, a forklift driver from the Auburn plant and vice president in the union’s Local F unit, said the local politicians “don’t understand what it is like to deal with the Boeing Company.”
“We are used to being threatened — it is nothing new for us,” he said.
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @coralgarnick