Sneaky vote irks union workers at 787 supplier
Sneak vote at 787 supplier in South Carolina angers new union members there. Microsoft is the latest rumored tenant for the WaMu tower in downtown Seattle.
Rami Grunbaum, deputy business editor, and Seattle Times Business staff
A year after successfully organizing workers at the South Carolina plant where the Boeing 787 Dreamliner's rear fuselage is built, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) has riled many of its new members there.
Most workers at the Vought plant won't get a paycheck over Thanksgiving or Christmas because of temporary layoffs. And because of a stealthy maneuver by the union just before the layoffs, when they get back to work early next year, they'll be saddled with a poor three-year contract.
When the IAM won union rights at Vought's Charleston plant, it was seen as a big advance for labor: Boeing could outsource airplane assembly to suppliers in regions where workers come cheaper — but the union could counter effectively by organizing those suppliers.
Now the outcome looks murkier. The recently ended two-month IAM strike at Boeing's Puget Sound region factories precipitated a temporary layoff in Charleston. Thursday was the last day of work this year for nearly 200 people, leaving only 30 to 40 production workers at the plant.
And days before that news, the union engineered a last-minute contract vote and touted a 92 percent approval even though just over a dozen workers were in the room.
"We got screwed," said newly laid-off assembly mechanic Jay Fleckenstein on Thursday night as he worked his second job delivering pizza.
The IAM, which only narrowly won an initial vote to represent the workers, faced a Nov. 7 deadline to agree with management on a contract; without a contract by that one-year anniversary the workers could vote again and potentially get rid of the union.
It's typical, when union representation is first negotiated at any company, that management tries to stretch out the bargaining past the one-year deadline in the hope that the initial certification can be reversed.
And in this case, with layoffs leaving just a few dozen management-picked production workers at the plant, the IAM would have stood a good chance of losing any decertification vote.
The IAM's Grand Lodge Representative, Joe Greaser, a full-time union official, called an "emergency meeting" at 4 p.m. that Friday. Few workers were aware of it.
Paul Gaudrault, a quality inspector and union member who attended, said only 13 people showed up.
Gaudrault said Greaser told the meeting that, with layoffs imminent, they needed to ratify the contract quickly to ensure employees would be recalled from layoff according to seniority.
All except Gaudrault voted to do so. That vote secures the union's role at the plant for the next three years.
Refusing to disclose the vote count, Greaser told the local Post and Courier newspaper that the vote was "overwhelming."
IAM spokesman Bob Wood would not confirm or deny that only 13 people had voted. He insisted the hasty vote was necessary because "all the people getting laid off had no protections. Now they have protections."
In a statement Thursday, Vought said it was "surprised to learn that its employees ... apparently ratified" a contract that was not its final offer. It provides for an annual raise of 1.5 percent, with a possible merit bonus of up to 2 percent determined by managers.
Dennis Murray, a quality inspector at the plant who had signed up for the union and was laid off Thursday, was unaware of the ratification vote until it was done.
He scoffed at the notion that the union-recall rights were worthwhile. With the lack of trained labor in the area, he said, Vought has no option but to recall everyone it has spent a year training at the state's expense.
And mechanic Pam DeGarmo said the 1.5 percent annual wage hike won't even cover the union dues and inflation.
"It's a horrible contract," said DeGarmo. "I didn't gain anything. It's going to cost me money."
Gaudrault said the contract is so poor some laid-off workers may not come back. "They'll have problems keeping people," he said.
Union spokesman Wood said the union will build on the contract in future negotiations.
"First contracts are always tough," he said.
As for Vought, it's stuck with the IAM in Charleston. Its consolation is a cheaper contract than it ever expected from the union.
— Dominic Gates
at WaMu tower?
Rumors about Microsoft abound in Seattle's commercial real-estate world. Here's the latest:
The Redmond software colossus may be interested in buying or leasing Washington Mutual's new downtown Seattle headquarters tower on Second Avenue.
JPMorgan Chase acquired the 42-story WaMu Center as part of its takeover of the failed thrift this fall. The new owner still hasn't said anything official about job cuts or future space needs — some word is expected early next month — but the bank isn't expected to require nearly as much office space going forward.
Chris Moe, principal and senior vice president with commercial brokerage GVA Kidder Mathews, mentioned Microsoft's purported interest in WaMu's 2-year-old headquarters in remarks delivered at a business breakfast this past week.
Moe said he didn't know if the rumor is true. But he said the speculation is being fueled in part by Microsoft's apparent delay in signing a lease for Vulcan's new 2201 Westlake building in the South Lake Union neighborhood — a deal that reportedly has been fully negotiated.
The Microsoft-WaMu rumor has been floating around for several weeks, other brokers say. Some are skeptical. JPMorgan Chase could take years to figure out what to do with the building, some say. Others question whether a signature high-rise in downtown Seattle would be Microsoft's style.
Still more observe that Microsoft's voracious appetite for office space may be slowing as it cuts back on new hires.
But, with office vacancy rates in downtown Seattle edging up, and growing concern about the future of not only WaMu but such large tenants as Safeco and Starbucks, any big move by Microsoft would give the market a huge boost, all agree.
— Eric Pryne
Comments? Send them to Rami Grunbaum: rgrunbaum@-
seattletimes.com or 206-464-8541
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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