The future of Boeing in Washington could be decided this week when Union Machinists vote for the second time in two months on an eight year contract extension.
The Machinists resoundingly rejected the previous offer. Boeing sweetened the deal a bit, but the company still wants to get rid of the pension system. That’s a pill that many older machinists don’t want to swallow.
Younger machinists appear more willing to forgo the pension for the 401(k)-style retirement plan Boeing is offering, if it means decades of future work.
At stake in all of this is the Boeing 777X and possibly Boeing’s potential move out of Puget Sound.
The deal has union members fighting with themselves and the national union leadership fighting with the local leadership.
Aviation analyst Scott Hamilton has been covering Boeing for three decades and says he’s never seen a union engaged in a civil war like we’re seeing here.
The national leadership is forcing Friday’s vote, against the will of the local leadership, and those local leaders are recommending the rank and file reject it.
“You have the District 751 fighting with International, you have factions within 751 taking different views,” says Hamilton. “This is just a real mess.”
Hamilton says Boeing is just sitting back and watching everything unfold. It wins, he believes, no matter what happens.
“They’ve got chaos within the union. If they don’t get this contract then they’re able to decide what they’re going to do with the 777X, which could very well be put someplace else,” Hamilton says. “If they win they still have civil war within the union.”
A National Labor Relations Board complaint has already been filed over the timing of the this vote, holding it over the holidays when many machinists are out, but the NLRB won’t be able to hear the complaint until after the vote.
Hamilton says there is one card left to play to delay the vote, “If the IAM doesn’t voluntarily reschedule the vote I guess the only alternative would be to go to court and seek TRO, a temporary restraining order, but I don’t know what the possibilities of that would be.”
Results of Friday’s vote should be released by about 9 p.m. There is email absentee balloting as well, so those on vacation will get their say.
There is a rally planned on Thursday outside the Seattle union headquarters to encourage a “no vote” on the contract. Thursday is the first day after the official Boeing holiday break.
Boeing says it plans to announce its decision on where it will build the 777X early next year. The program is worth billions of dollars in economic impact for the area that get it. It will also employ more than 8,000 people.
If Boeing sites the plane outside of Puget Sound, many aviation insiders see that as the beginning of the end of Boeing in Washington state.