Claiming that future jobs are at stake in Washington state, several local political leaders urged the Boeing Machinists union to vote in favor of the divisive contract following a meeting Monday with Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner.
“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.”
Those officials included Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, Renton Mayor Denis Law, Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick — said Conner made it clear that rejecting the offer would result in relocating the construction of the 777X composite wing elsewhere.
Yet if the contract is approved, according to Conner, both the plane and the wing will be assembled here in Washington.
Former Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel explained that the composite wing is a vital new technology our state needs in order to keep its aerospace industry 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.
Yet if the wing is not built in Washington, officials fear that it will likely mean that future airplane production will not be either, possibly putting Washington’s future in the aerospace industry in jeopardy.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes, which builds current versions of the 777 in Everett, has launched a well-publicized national campaign to solicit alternative offers for re-locating both the wing plant and 777X assembly. Many commentators see this as yet another demoralizing strategy to pit American workers against each other as companies look for the lowest bidder – meaning, of course, the lowest wages and smallest benefits packages.
Boeing spokesman Doug Alder did not offer any remarks following Monday’s meeting, but he has previously stated that this coming Friday’s vote will “be the last opportunity for the union to vote before Boeing makes a decision on the 777X site.”
Opponents within the Machinists union, along with many local union leaders, have balked at Boeing’s revised contract offer because it still leaves out a traditional pension, instead offering a 401(k)-style retirement plan. The proposal would also extend workers’ contract from 2016 to 2024, meaning that they would be locked into annual wage increases around 0.5% (plus annual cost-of-living adjustments).
The Machinists November 13 vote on Boeing’s first proposal yielded an unambiguous 2 to 1 rejection of the offer. Later in December, the company enhanced a few elements of its contract offer, and national union leaders scheduled another vote, even as local union leaders remained steadfastly opposed.
Mayors Cooke and Stephanson enthusiastically endorsed the new contract offer and urged the Machinists to reconsider the 401(k)-style retirement plan. Stephanson pointed out that even though the retirement plan departs from what the Machinists have had in the past, they would still have a highly 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.”
Yet saying these benefits are better than what some other companies offer is hardly a consolation for many workers in the Puget-Sound Region, especially considering the struggles many already face with work injuryand occupational disease, denied L&I claims, and third party injuries. Union members are also troubled by the fact that they are getting pressure from every direction to accept Boeing’s offer, said Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for International Association of Machinists’ District 751.
“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.