Will there be a Machinist vote or not on Boeing proposal? Confusion reigns as company announces S.C. expansion

The Associated PressDecember 13, 2013 

UPDATE, 10:50 a.m., from The News Tribune and The Associated Press:

Leaders in the International Association of Machinists publicly differed Friday on whether to bring Boeing's latest contract offer to a vote, exposing tensions within the union over how to handle the high-stakes negotiations.

National union spokesman Frank Larkin said Friday that officials were exploring the idea after hundreds of members demanded an opportunity to vote on the contract to secure work on the 777X airplane. Larkin said members have always had the final say and that they have every right to vote on the terms of the offer.

But local union officials said Friday they don't see any point in bringing it to a vote because it's too similar to a contract the union rejected a month ago.

In a statement posted online a few minutes ago, around 10:30 a.m., Local Machinist Union District Lodge 751 President Tom Wroblewski issued a statement that says there's nothing to vote on.

"I’m sorry that there has been confusion over this issue, especially by the reported comments of the retired leader from our International headquarters, who seems to be suggesting there’s still an offer hiding out there somewhere, just waiting for you to vote on," Wroblewski wrote. "I understand that many of you are frustrated, and I don’t blame you."

A latest round of contract talks collapsed Thursday after local officials with the Machinists said they could not recommend Boeing's latest proposal to members. Local Machinists spokesman Bryan Corliss says Boeing has withdrawn the contract offer.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder, however, said while negotiations have stalled, the contract offer is still on the table and in the union's hands.

Local union officials have seemed to disagree with their national leaders in recent weeks on how to handle Boeing's offers. That division was clear last month, when local union members voted to reject a contract negotiated by IAM leadership.

Boeing and the Machinists have been exploring a deal that would secure the production of the new 777X airplane in the Puget Sound and the thousands of jobs that come with it.

This week, Boeing made some changes to its original contract offer, backing away from a proposal that would slow the rate at which employees rise up the pay scale and adding an additional $5,000 in bonus pay. The biggest sticking point appears to be the company's insistence that workers move from a traditional defined-benefit pension to a defined-contribution savings plan.

The local machinists said the company's latest proposal was too high of a price to pay to secure the 777X.

"I think you'll agree these were very minor changes, and not nearly enough to offset the things Boeing was trying to take away from you, and for the Machinists who will join us in the future," Wroblewski wrote in a message to members Friday morning.

Looming over the talks is the prospect that the company could build the airplane elsewhere. Boeing said it has received proposals from 22 states eager for the 777X jobs, with some proposing multiple sites. The company said 54 sites are now being evaluated.

In its own bid to win the 777X jobs, Washington state recently approved tax breaks for Boeing valued at $9 billion over the coming years, along with legislation to improve aerospace training programs and the permitting process.

Chicago-based Boeing began offering the 777X in May, but it's still finalizing plans for the plane and aiming to deliver the first aircraft by the end of the decade. Boeing has said it is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777.

At the Dubai Airshow last month, Boeing received orders for 225 such planes from three airlines.

This is a developing story. We will continue to update it as news happens.

 

Original report from Friday morning: A machinists union is mulling the logistics of having its members in the Puget Sound vote on a proposed contract from Boeing Co., even after local union leaders said they couldn't recommend it to their members.

International Association of Machinists spokesman Frank Larkin said the union has been hearing from hundreds of members demanding an opportunity to vote on the contract to secure work on the 777X airplane.

A latest round of contract talks collapsed Thursday after local officials with the Machinists said they could not recommend Boeing's latest proposal to members. Local Machinists spokesman Bryan Corliss says Boeing has withdrawn the contract offer.

Local union officials have seemed to disagree with their national leaders in recent weeks on how to handle Boeing's offers. That division was clear last month, when local union members voted to reject a contract negotiated by IAM leadership.

Meanwhile, Boeing has announced more details of its expansion in South Carolina.

The aeronautics company said Friday it will begin construction next year on a building to paint the 787 Dreamliners built in its North Charleston assembly plant.

The facility should be operational by mid-2016.

Currently, 787s built in South Carolina are flown to Fort Worth, Texas, to be painted with airline logos and then are returned to South Carolina for final preparation.

Boeing has also reached a long-term lease with Palmetto Railways, a division of the state Commerce Department, for about 470 additional acres in North Charleston. The lease is to protect the land for future growth.

Earlier this year, Boeing announced it will invest another $1.1 billion and create 2,000 new jobs in South Carolina over eight years.

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