Machinists make contract offer to Boeing as negotiations recess Wednesday

Staff writerDecember 11, 2013 

The union representing assembly line workers at Boeing's Everett plant late Wednesday presented Boeing a new contract proposal in an attempt to secure production of Boeing's newest plane for Puget Sound.

If the two sides can agree on a new deal, Boeing would build both the 777X and its composite wings in Western Washington.

The Machinists Union said it isn't disclosing the terms of the proposed deal.

“We tried to craft a proposal that would meet the needs of our members, while also ensuring the long-term success of the Boeing Co. in Washington state,” said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 in a message to members.

Wroblewski said he expects Boeing will respond to the offer on Thursday.

The new offer came on the second day of meetings between the union and Boeing. Those meetings came almost a month after union members voted 67 percent against a proposal from Boeing for a new 8-year contract. Boeing said it would build the updated version of the popular 777 at its Everett plant and the wings in Washington if the union agreed to that prior offer.

Wroblewski described the tone of Wednesday’s talks as “respectful and constructive,” but said the two sides are not close to an agreement.

“Our members want Boeing to be successful, and Boeing’s best chance of success for the 777X is to build it here, utilizing their skills, experience and dedication,” Wroblewski said.

“A business analyst might call our Machinists the high-skill, low-risk solution to Boeing’s manufacturing needs. I’d just call us the best aerospace workers in the world.”

Wednesday's meeting came a day after other states submitted bids to lure Boeing's newest aircraft production line.

Unlike the last time the union and Boeing met to carve out an agreement, the union publicly acknowledged that talks were ongoing.

"'Our membership wants to build this airplane and we believe Boeing wants to do it here,” Wroblewski said.

Union sources said that if the two sides can reach a tentative agreement, members may vote on the deal before Christmas.

The Washington Legislature already has approved an $8.7 billion tax break for Boeing and Washington aerospace suppliers over 16 years contingent on the 777X being built in Washington.

The 777X is the updated version of Boeing popular 777 long-range twin jet. Boeing has already received billions of dollars in orders for the new plane, which will go into service late in this decade.

Boeing had hoped to use the incentive of producing the 777X at the plant where the 777 is now built to entice union members to accept a contract that accomplished many of Boeing's long-range cost-cutting objectives. Among those were a freeze on the company's defined benefit pension plan and substitution of a defined contribution pension plan, an 8-year instead of the usual four-year union contract. Minimal raises over the contract term and greater employee contributions to the company's health insurance costs.

Boeing offered Machinists Union members a $10,000 one-time bonus if they approved the deal.

That proposal was presented to members without a recommendation from the union's leadership. The deal triggered a strong negative reaction among union members.

After the union rejected the deal, Boeing solicited proposals from 15 other states where the new plant might be built. Those states and others were to present their deals to Boeing Tuesday.

While some states such as Missouri pursued the plant with great public fervor, many states seemed to respond quietly, perhaps sensing that their proposals might simply be used by the company to create leverage in its efforts to extract concessions from the union.

Union activists said after the contract rejection that Everett remained the best place to build the new plane. Several aerospace analysts agreed that the existing plant with its skilled workforce that assembles the present 777 and with its network of nearby suppliers and transportation infrastructure would be the least risky place to build the updated plane and its new composite wings.

If Boeing picks another state, it would have to build a new assembly plant from scratch and at a cost of up to $10 billion (if it couldn't get government to build the plant for it), would have to recruit up to 8,500 workers and train them in the skills necessary to build the plane.

Five locations where Boeing is considering for the new plant, Long Beach, Calif., St. Louis, Mo., Huntsville, Ala., San Antonio, Texas and North Charleston, S.C., have a workforce that have handled aircraft projects. But two of those, Long Beach and St. Louis, are unionized and the third, North Charleston, has a history of difficulties in producing the only Boeing commercial aircraft assembled outside the Puget Sound area. Workers at Huntsville and San Antonio have never built an aircraft.

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