980 boeing machinists union KIRO
Boeing Machinists will get a chance to vote on the company's eight-year contract offer. And for the first time, they'll be allowed to vote by absentee ballot. (KIRO Radio/Chris Sullivan)

Machinists to allow absentee ballots in contract vote

Boeing Machinists will get to vote on the company's revised eight-year contract offer. And the union says members will be allowed to vote via absentee ballot for the first time.

The international arm of the Machinists union announced over the weekend it was forcing the vote over the protests of the local union leadership.

"Our international president has directed that the vote will take place on Jan. 3. So we are moving forward with that as our plan and we're doing everything we can do to assure that we have a free, fair and transparent election," says union spokesperson Bryan Corliss.

Corliss says the local leadership won't fight the vote, but it is recommending the rank and file vote it down.

"Our district leadership is unanimously recommending that our members reject this contract. We feel that this is a below-market offer at a time when Boeing is recording record profit margins and has a near-record backlog. We don't feel it's appropriate for our members to be forced into taking concessions," says Corliss.

A message on the IAM website tells members to think of the economic destruction they would live under for the next 11 years, should they approve this contract. It says Boeing's latest offer isn't much different than the one rejected just last month.

"Our members rejected this proposal by a 2-to-1 margin back in November. Boeing's changes aren't that significant, so here at the district we are pretty confident they will speak loud and clear again and say this is something we don't want," says Corliss.

Corliss says local leadership has received authorization from the International President "to grant authority to do a one-time absentee ballot process on a contract vote."

"We are still working on the details of that process," he said. "These are extraordinary times and our goal is to ensure that every member gets an opportunity to vote."

Corliss says the timing of the Jan. 3 vote comes a day after Boeing's two-week Christmas break ends. Many workers planned to take off Jan. 3 too. Some union workers call the timing dastardly.

"The majority of the feedback that we got since the vote was announced was concern over the timing on it, it was right after the holidays, a fair number of our people are going to be out of town. We're also running into a little bit of a problem logistically finding a place for our Pierce County members to vote," says Corliss.

The biggest issue in this contract remains the pension. Boeing wants to get rid of the current pension system in 2016 and replace it with a 401k-style retirement plan. All the money in the current pension would be safe. The 401k plan offers a generous company match.

Many Machinists say they can live with that, if this contract means the 777X will be built in Washington.

Another small group of Machinists gathered outside the Everett plant over the weekend to demand a vote on this contract.

"We weren't trying to get a yes or no vote, that wasn't the thing for this, it was that we wanted a right to vote," one Machinist told KING 5.

Boeing says it will site the 777X in Washington, if the union votes in favor of this contract.

The company has already started eliminating states from the running. Though it won't discuss the short list, officials in North Carolina and Pennsylvania say they are out.

Boeing received offers from 22 states, including Washington, to build the 777X. It says it will announce its decision early next year.


Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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