Boeing labor rally displays split over latest contract offer

December 18, 2013 

— A small rally Wednesday led by Machinists calling for a vote on Boeing’s latest contract proposal ended with an animated debate in front of the union hall.

Chanting “give us a vote” and holding signs, about three dozen people marched from The Boeing Co.’s campus to the local union hall in Everett. The rally came six days after local union leaders said the company’s offer was too similar to one that workers rejected last month.

“We just wanted to be heard,” said James Christofferson, who marched with the pro-vote crowd. “We think they made enough significant changes to the contract that it would change the way it went last time.”

A handful of other union workers who oppose a new vote also gathered at the hall. The two sides engaged in an animated debate about whether a vote should happen.

Aaron Powell was one of the men who met the rallying group. He said that despite the small number of members rallying, they can still create a rift within the union.

Powell said he understands the group’s fear of Boeing potentially leaving the region, but he said the union is stronger if the membership remains together.

“We don’t vote on every single offer,” he said. “This wasn’t even an offer. It was just a question.”

Boeing has offered to build much of the new 777X airplane in the Puget Sound area, but the company wants to get workers off traditional pension plans, replacing the benefit with a defined-contribution savings plan. The company said it is considering moving production of the plane to another state if it can’t reach a deal with Machinists in Washington.

The union rejected Boeing’s initial proposal by a 3-to-1 margin.

“We’re pretty sure the pensions are going away anyways,” Christofferson said. “We just kind of feel like we don’t have a choice. We at least we want to be able to vote. I don’t care if they vote yes or no. At least we get to tell the company and union how we feel.”

CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS

Chicago-based Boeing gave campaign contributions to seven Washington state lawmakers a few days before the Legislature voted to give the company a huge tax break, according to records recently filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission.

The documents show that Boeing gave the maximum donation of $900 to seven lawmakers, for a total of $6,300. The donations were made Nov. 5, the day before Gov. Jay Inslee called a special session to approve tax incentives valued at some $9 billion.

Boeing contributes to Washington state political campaigns with some regularity. But before November, the last donations from the company’s political action committee were in July, when it gave to a variety of lawmakers.

In the donations ahead of the special session, Boeing supported Republican Sens. John Braun, Sharon Brown and John Smith; Republican Reps. Norm Johnson, Charles Ross and Shelly Short; and Democratic Rep. Dave Upthegrove.

Six of the seven voted for the tax package, while Ross was excused from voting.

Boeing also gave some donations to local officials in November, including Snohomish County Executive John Lovick. He was among those who traveled to Olympia to testify in favor of the tax package.

EXECUTIVE SHUFFLE

Also Wednesday, Boeing handed new titles to two of its top executives, giving an indication of where it is headed when current Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney retires.

Defense chief Dennis A. Muilenburg was promoted to president and chief operating officer, and named vice chairman of the company. Raymond L. Conner was also named vice chairman, and will continue to run Boeing’s commercial airplanes division.

Boeing spokesman John Dern said the moves are part of Boeing’s process for planning for the eventual retirement of McNerney, 64.

Boeing’s retirement age for executives is 65, although the board can ask them to stay longer and it has in the past, Dern said. He declined to say whether McNerney is seeking to stay past 65. “There aren’t any current plans for his retirement,” Dern said.

Boeing’s airplane and defense units used to be roughly equal by revenue, but booming sales of commercial planes have pushed that division ahead. Conner, 58, has been leading Boeing’s commercial airplane division since June 2012. He has run Boeing’s 777 and 747 programs, and was leading sales for commercial airplanes when he got the job running that division.

Muilenburg, 49, has been running Boeing’s defense unit since 2009. Before that he was president of its military support and services business.

The moves leave Conner running Boeing’s largest division and reporting directly to McNerney, as will new defense chief Christopher Chadwick, Dern said. Chadwick, 53, is president of the military aircraft unit.

Muilenberg is no longer running his own division, but Boeing’s announcement suggested that he’ll be working closely with McNerney on corporate issues and projects.

Muilenburg has been a vocal proponent of the “One Boeing” strategy, which seeks to better coordinate supply chain and other functions across the commercial and defense units. Boeing said its focus on bringing the parts of its business closer together was paying off in domestic and international markets, and had generated savings across the corporation.

If Muilenburg succeeded McNerney as Boeing chief executive, it would mark the first time a leader from the defense side has headed the company since 1986, when Boeing was led by Thornton “T” Wilson, who worked on the B-52 bomber and Minuteman ballistic missile programs, stepped down.

The CEOs immediately before McNerney, Harry Stonecipher, Phil Condit and Frank Shrontz, came from the commercial side, although Shrontz had worked at the Pentagon. McNerney came from outside Boeing, previously heading 3M and several General Electric divisions, including aircraft engines and lighting.

During his tenure as defense chief, Muilenburg helped Boeing beat out Europe’s Airbus to win an Air Force competition for 179 new refueling tankers.

BRAZIL PICKS SAAB OVER BOEING

Brazil’s government said Wednesday that Sweden’s Saab won a long-delayed fighter jet contract initially worth $4.5 billion that will supply at least 36 planes to Latin America’s biggest nation.

The decision to buy the Saab jet over Boeing’s F-18 Super Hornet or France’s Dassault Rafale came as a surprise to many. Some analysts said Boeing’s bid was hurt by reports that the U.S. conducted extensive spying in Brazil, including a direct targeting of President Dilma Rousseff’s own communications.

Last month, South Korea said it would buy 40 Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighters instead of Boeing’s F-15 jet, the only plane that met the country’s price requirements.

Manuel Valdes, Joshua Freed and Bradley Broo–ks of The Associated Press and Andrea Shalal-Esa of Reuters contributed to this report.

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