The thirty thousand plus members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751 have overwhelmingly voted to reject an offer from the Boeing Company that would have replaced their existing labor agreement with a new long-term contract, the union’s leadership announced earlier tonight.
At a press conference in Seattle, IAMAW 751 President Tom Wroblewski said that sixty-seven percent of his members had turned down an offer from Boeing Commercial Airplanes that would have substantially reduced Machinists’ deferred pay and benefits through 2024 in exchange for a commitment to build the 777X in Washington State. He later released a statement reflecting on the vote.
“Today, the democratic process worked and our members made the decision to not accept the company’s proposal. It is my belief that we represent the best aerospace workforce in the world and hope that as a result of this vote Boeing will not discard our skills when looking to place the 777X.”
“We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a ‘retirement crisis’ in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity,” he added.
Technically, Boeing’s offer was a contract extension, but for all intents and purposes it amounted to a new contract that would have taken effect immediately, invalidating the old one and setting a bad precedent for future labor agreements.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner, who received $1.87 million in salary and cash bonuses just last year (not counting stock options, awards, and delayed compensation, which bring his haul up to $7.8 million) promptly responded by confirming that Boeing would now consider locating 777X production elsewhere.
“We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote,” Conner said. “Our goal was two-fold: to enable the 777X and its new composite wing to be produced in Puget Sound and to create a competitive structure to ensure that we continue market-leading pay, health care and retirement benefits while preserving jobs and our industrial base here in the region.
“But without the terms of this contract extension, we’re left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X. I’d like to thank Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington state legislature for all their efforts in this process. We had hoped for a different outcome.”
Conner is being duplicitous. Boeing does have a choice. The 777X is Boeing’s airplane. They could choose to return to the negotiating table with the Machinists if they wanted to. But they don’t. Boeing set up this “all or nothing” decision. They sought deliberatively to put the Machinists in a no-win position.
To that end, they offered a very one-sided contract, reasoning that if the Machinists accepted it, they would have succeeded in weakening the power of organized labor in one of America’s most unionized states, whereas in the event of a rejection, they could make the Machinists look like the villain and create a pretext for looking at putting 777X production elsewhere. Boeing orchestrated these events.
None of us should be fooled by their posturing. If Boeing really cared about preserving jobs and making a commitment to our region, its best offer to the Machinists would have looked very different.
The company wields a tremendous amount of clout in our state capital… so much so that, as we just saw, the company was able to get Governor Jay Inslee to call a special session on its behalf so that lawmakers could sign off on a goodies bag that includes one of the biggest corporate tax breaks in American history.
But Boeing’s clout, Boeing’s threats, and Boeing’s bastion of cheerleaders weren’t enough to roll the Machinists. Tonight, the members of District 751 took a stand… and not just for themselves. They took a stand for all of us.
The Machinists stood against an unfair, insulting offer that asked them to give up years of hard-won gains. They declined to willingly participate in a race to the bottom. They refused to be intimidated and pushed around by a company that has become obsessed with short-term profits at the expense of long-term success.
We salute their bravery and courage tonight.
If Boeing executives are smart, they will choose to build the 777X here, take advantage of the incredibly generous tax incentives that Washington State lawmakers just voted to approve, and bargain in good faith with the Machinists on a contract that is fair and reasonable, not one that takes away deferred pay and benefits. That would be the wise course of action to take.
Or, they can choose to build the 777X elsewhere, spurning the people of the state of Washington and the dedicated, talented workers who build the 737, 777, 787 and other Boeing jets. That would be a grave mistake.
We hope Boeing executives come to their senses and realize what tonight’s vote was really about. The Machinists want the 777X to be built here. They’re capable of building the world’s best and most reliable airplanes, but they want to be treated respectfully and compensated fairly. They’re frustrated because they don’t feel Boeing is showing them the loyalty they have so consistently shown Boeing.
If Boeing can afford to handsomely reward its executives with big paychecks and lucrative stock options, it can afford to do right by its workers, and it should.