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Originally published December 16, 2013 at 8:12 PM | Page modified December 16, 2013 at 9:55 PM

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Labor upset with Inslee’s call for new Machinists vote

The Washington State Labor Council wants Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to apologize for urging the Machinists union to vote on a new Boeing contract.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — The Washington State Labor Council wants Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee to apologize for urging the Machinists union to vote on a new Boeing contract the company says is necessary to secure work on the new 777X airliner.

“I know what I do when I’ve offended people, particularly when I’ve offended a lot of people,” said Jeff Johnson, president of the Labor Council.

When asked if the governor should issue an apology, Johnson said, “That certainly seems appropriate to me.”

There’s been a growing labor backlash to Inslee’s call for a vote, Johnson said.

“This did not sit well with folks. I’ve been getting calls for the last three days and emails,” he said.

The disgruntlement led to labor groups canceling plans to attend a holiday reception at the governor’s mansion Monday evening.

Groups that canceled include the state Labor Council, the International Association of Machinists (IAM), the Washington Federation of State Employees and many others, Johnson said.

“I don’t know of any union that’s going to be attending tonight,” he said Monday.

David Postman, a spokesman for Inslee, confirmed that some invitees had canceled. The reception was for friends and family as well as labor and other supporters, he said.

“The governor is hoping to have a meeting soon with some of the labor leaders who are unhappy with his statement to talk about his position,” Postman said in an email.

Labor was an important backer of Inslee during his successful run for governor in 2012. This represents an unusual public blowup with an important part of his base.

Both Inslee and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, released statements Friday urging the Machinists union to allow a vote on the latest proposed Boeing contract.

Inslee in his statement said, “I believe the Machinists should have the opportunity to exercise that right by voting on this contract proposal. ... That should happen soon as I have become increasingly concerned that we are at a perilous point in our effort to bring the 777X to Washington state.”

The Machinists union last month overwhelmingly rejected a proposed contract that contained benefit cuts in exchange for securing future 777X work in the state.

A new offer later emerged, but local and national leaders of the Machinists union have split on whether to allow a vote.

Local union leadership has rejected calls for a vote, while others, including officials from the national headquarters, say the rank and file should get a chance to weigh in.

The proposal, among other things, asks Machinists to freeze their defined-benefit pension, replacing it with a retirement-savings plan.

Boeing has said the contract would secure work on the 777X airplane at a time when numerous other states are competing for those jobs.

Postman, in an email Monday, clarified Inslee’s earlier statement saying “the governor believes machinists should have the opportunity to vote. But to be clear, he has not urged a vote yea or nay. He has consistently said that isn’t his role and fully respects each and every IAM member who will make that decision based on the individual circumstances of their family.”

Johnson said that statement doesn’t change anything. “It’s sad that they don’t get that,” he said.

The new proposal by Boeing “is insignificantly different” from the earlier contract that the Machinists voted to reject, he said.

“So I guess the question is why would anyone in their right mind put themselves through that agony and expense all over again. And to have a governor say, ‘Yeah, do it,’ is absolutely disrespectful to these members and to their leadership,” Johnson said.

Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this story.

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