Machinists approve absentee voting on Boeing contract offer

The Seattle TimesDecember 27, 2013 

Boeing union machinists line up inside the Pierce County Skills Center near the company's Frederickson in November to vote on a proposed 8-year contract.

JOHN GILLIE — The News Tribune

District 751 of the Machinists said Friday that union members who’ll be away on vacation during its controversial Jan. 3 contract vote with Boeing can obtain electronic absentee ballots that will be processed by an outside firm.

The absentee voting is a departure from the union’s usual procedures. District 751’s local leadership, which has vocally opposed voting on the current Boeing contract extension offer, got permission for the procedure from the Machinists’ national leadership, which scheduled the voting on a day when many members will still be taking holiday time.

To obtain access to the portal where they can vote electronically, members must email a request to the union by noon on Jan. 2. They are instructed to provide their Boeing ID, as well as a picture of their driver’s license or passport and a phone number.

“We will be utilizing an outside voting service to handle the actual absentee voting on January 3rd,” said a statement on the District 751 website explaining how members can obtain the online ballot.

Boeing says it will build the planned 777X in its Puget Sound plants if the contract is approved, but otherwise will look at other sites.

Local Machinist leaders have adamantly opposed such a vote, arguing the offer is not much of an improvement over the one union members soundly rejected Nov. 13.

The new offer, which extends the current contract from 2016 to 2024, eliminates Boeing’s proposal to lengthen to 16-plus years, from six, the so-called “zoom” period for moving to the top pay for a particular job classification.

But it retains Boeing’s insistence on stopping accumulations in the Machinists’ longstanding pension plan in 2016 and starting a defined-contribution retirement savings plan instead.

On Thursday, the Machinists’ national leader told union members to take seriously Boeing’s threat to build the 777X elsewhere, warning them not to expect further bargaining if they vote Jan. 3 to reject the company’s proposed contract extension.

“I am duty-bound to inform the membership this vote will be the final vote on this proposed contract,” wrote Tom Buffenbarger, international president of the union, in a message posted on the International Association of Machinists website. “The timeline for the Puget Sound area is expiring.”

The national leadership is at odds with Puget Sound union officials at District 751.

Buffenbarger, who ordered the balloting, did not explicitly recommend a Yes vote by the 31,000 members covered by the proposed contract extension.

But the message highlighted what he said was $1 billion in improvements from the previous contract offer that Machinists rejected Nov. 13 by 2-to-1. “I believe this represents a ‘significant’ improvement worthy of the membership’s consideration,” he wrote.

The local District 751 Machinists leadership, by contrast, is denouncing the Boeing proposal as containing “massive takeaways.”

On its own website, District 751 tells members, “You need to look at the facts of the economic destruction you would have to live under for the next 11 years, without any opportunity to change any provisions of the contract.”

Buffenbarger also wrote that next Friday’s vote should be “free from any coercive or disruptive circumstances,” and seemed to restrict the local leadership’s participation in the tally.

“No local lodge officers other than those specifically authorized by the IAM Constitution or District Lodge business representatives are to handle any ballots other than their own,” his message said.

In past elections, the votes collected at the various District 751 union halls have been conveyed by volunteer members to the main union offices in Seattle for counting.

Buffenbarger’s message, however, directs that “the ballot count be conducted at each voting location by the election tellers and in such manner that members may observe in a respectful environment.” Only after counting at each polling site, said the message, will the results be communicated to District 751 President Tom Wroblewski, who will announce the result.

Buffenbarger’s message makes no mention of the absentee balloting.

Some Machinists who oppose the contract proposal have suggested Boeing will come back yet again with an improved offer, since there are many advantages to building the 777X in Everett rather than creating a new plant elsewhere.

Buffenbarger’s message cautioned members that the company has “serious offers and incentive packages” from other states.

“Some may believe this is a ‘fake’ play by the company. Your union, based upon information that indicates otherwise, must take the threat seriously,” he wrote.

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