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Turbulence remains at Boeing after contract fight

Boeing will build the 777X in Everett. It will build the new composite wing in Everett. That’s the easy part.

Building planes is what this company and its workers do best, but the toughest challenge Boeing faces right now is mending the fences with its machinists union, after the bitter contract fight and the concessions the workers had to swallow to ensure their jobs.

A lot of machinists felt the gun to their heads as they voted on the contract early last month. Give up their hard-earned pension or possibly lose their jobs, that was the choice.

Many thought it was a bluff, a bullying tactic. But 51 percent of the union voted for the deal, and now Mark Johnson with the national arm of the union said it’s time to move on.

“The machinists are a proud bunch,” he said. “You may have noticed we don’t always agree, and we’ve seen that. But at the end of the day, we’re together.”

But the machinists don’t appear to be together on anything right now if you read the message boards that are full of comments about bribes and threats and fraudulent negotiations. I asked Johnson what he meant with that statement.

“We’re together to build airplanes,” he said. “We’re going to build airplanes. The membership made the decision to accept this contract and have this 777 airplane into the future.”

But machinists tell KIRO Radio that morale on the shop floor is at an all-time low right now, and the union is fractured. There are a lot of bad feelings.

What can Boeing do about that?

“Hopefully as time moves on, we’ll be able to heal any wounds that may exist,” Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Connor said at Tuesday’s event announcing the 777X wing facility would be built in Everett. “The big thing is that we are going to be here, and we’re going to compete and we’re going to win and we’re going to have a lot of jobs going forward.”

Connor said all the company can do is extend the hand, answer any questions and put the focus back on building airplanes and battling Airbus for market share.

“This isn’t a five-year decision,” he said. “This isn’t a 20 year decision. This is a 50 year decision. Think about how long we’ve been here, and when we make a decision that we’re going to build something here, we’re going to be here. It’s not that easy to pick up and move these things.”

And it’s that last line from Connor that has a lot of machinists saying “I told you so” this morning to machinists who voted for the contract. He admitted that picking up and moving would not be an easy task.

Those machinists believe it validates their speculation that Boeing never intended to build the 777X anywhere but Washington, confirming their position that Boeing was using scare tactics to get major concessions from the machinists, which it accomplished.

For the union’s Johnson, he knows the rift inside his organization will take a long time to fix.

“When you have a membership that’s split on a vote like that, it takes time,” he said. “We’ve had many other issues in the past, coming back from strikes and so forth, so I believe it’s just a matter of time, and it’s happening as we speak.”

The union will elect a new local president early next month with job one being pulling its members together.

But with message boards full of angry machinists talking about voiding the contract and filing lawsuits, there’s going to be turbulence for a while.

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