Boeing machinists say proposed pact is a bad bargain

Staff writerNovember 13, 2013 

If Machinists Union members' voting matches their talking, a proposal for a new eight-year labor pact with the Boeing Co. appeared headed to defeat Wednesday as more than 30,000 Boeing workers headed to the polls to decide the fate of the critical new contract.

Union approval of the labor deal could ensure that Boeing builds its newest aircraft the 777X and its composite wings in Western Washington.

But near Boeing’s Frederickson plant in Pierce County Wednesday morning, union members willing to talk about the proposed contract were overwhelmingly negative about the deal.

"My opinion is not just ‘no,’ but ‘hell, no,’ said one union member who emerged from the Pierce County Skills Center after voting on proposed pact. She, like many others who talked with The News Tribune, declined to give her name.

But other union members said they believe the public bravado won’t be matched with private no votes on the ballot.

"Nobody likes it. It’s not a good contract, but considering the alternative, it may be the only choice we have,’ said one worker from Boeing’s Auburn parts plant.

Boeing has said that if the union vote fails, the company will invite other locales to bid for the assembly plant and wing construction facility. Other states and countries have already expressed strong interest in gaining the work and the 10,000 jobs that it will create at Boeing.

Votes are due to be counted early Wednesday evening with results announced sometime before 10 p.m. at the latest.

Union members said the proposed pact will erase the work and sacrifices of decades by union members to reach their present pay and benefit levels.

"Boeing used to stand for pride in their work, pride in how they treated their employees. I don’t think Bill Boeing would recognize the company he founded,” said one Boeing worker.

Union members were so uniformly negative toward the Boeing proposal because it contains substantial changes from the contracts the union is accustomed to approving:

• The pact is twice as long -- 8 years -- as the usual union contract.

• General wage increases, a total of four percent over the life of the contract, are a fraction of what Boeing has given its workers in past contracts.

• The contract spells an end to Boeing’s traditional defined benefit pension plan. Workers now under that plan will see their benefits are frozen. A new pension scheme will replace that plan beginning this year for new workers and for existing workers’ further work at the company. That plan, a combination of an enhanced 401K savings plan and a defined contribution pension plan, shifts the risk from Boeing to its workers to create enough wealth to fund them through their retirement years.

• Health care costs under the deal will rise substantially for workers.

Knowing that the contract likely wouldn’t be met with enthusiasm, however, Boeing has included several ratification incentives beyond the promise of jobs for Western Washington.

Chief among those is a $10,000 ratification bonus to be paid within 30 days of a positive vote to everyone covered by the contract. The other incentive is a provision that allows employees 58 and older to retire with no pension penalties for early retirement and the pension enhancement to $95 per month per year of service.

Union voters said the $10,000 won’t turn their heads.

"The $10,000? That’s just $3 a day over the 10 years until the contract expires,” said one union member. (The union has two years remaining on its existing contract.)

One union member said he’s voting for the deal despite intense pressure from his peers at work to vote to reject it.

That worker, who was employed by Boeing in the ‘90s, and then worked outside the company until three years ago, said most career Boeing workers have little idea what the wages and working conditions are for workers outside the aerospace company.

"In the real world, Boeing’s health care plan would be considered a Cadillac plan. Its wages are at the top of the scale,” he said.

Many Boeing workers said they think Boeing will be forced to build the 777X in Western Washington in spite of a union rejection of the contract.

"Where else do they have the plant? Where else do they have the skilled labor force?” asked a union member.

Others disagreed.

"If this contract is rejected,” said one, “You can mark this day as the day the good jobs began going away in Western Washington.”

John Gillie: 253-597-8663

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