Boeing machinists in the Northwest have overwhelmingly rejected a contentious contract proposal the company demanded in exchange for guarantees to build the new 777X in Washington State.
Sixty-seven percent of the approximately 20,000 members of the International Association of Machinists District 751 voted no, protesting Boeing Co.’s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.
District 751 President Tom Wroblewski called it an emotional decision prior to the vote but said union members should consider what’s best for their families.
Wroblewski refused to speak with media members following the announcement of the vote results.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes issued a statement from President and CEO Ray Conner:
“We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote. 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.”
Boeing proposed the eight-year contract extension, saying it needs the deal to assemble the new 777X in Washington state. With the threat of those jobs going to another state, lawmakers rushed to approve $8.7 billion in tax breaks last week.
Along with extending tax breaks to 2040, lawmakers this past weekend also approved millions of dollars for training programs for aerospace workers. Lawmakers have also said that Boeing supports the development of a large transportation package, and the Legislature is still exploring a plan valued at about $10 billion.
“This is a tough night for the state of Washington,” Governor Inslee said in a news conference following the vote. “We could have had a big win tonight. We could have grabbed the brass ring for this airplane. But I want to say this, what we were unable to finish tonight, means that we are starting a new chapter of competition for this airplane.”
Inslee said he’ll hold another meeting with legislators Friday to talk about a statewide transportation package requested by Boeing.
The actions in Olympia were meant to let machinists know that Washington would be there as a partner for them, Inslee said.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick, who had urged a yes vote Tuesday, issued a brief statement late Wednesday: “I know the Machinists had a difficult choice to make. I respect that, but I can’t hide my disappointment in the outcome,” he said.
Dian Lord, a toolmaker at Boeing’s facility in Renton who is nearing retirement, said Wednesday morning she believes the company is extorting its workers by pushing a swift contract vote while threatening to place 777X operations elsewhere if machinists don’t oblige. Still, Lord said she feels intense pressure to vote for the contract, especially considering that it could impact a variety of other Boeing workers and vendors should the company move elsewhere.
“I’m very conflicted,” Lord said.
Political leaders, including many Democrats who are closely aligned with unionized workers, declined in recent days to encourage machinists how to vote but asked them to consider the broader impact on jobs and future generations. IAM leaders issued a similar message, with Wroblewski saying the vote is about 30 years of jobs for the region.
“This is an opportunity we will never see again to secure thousands of good-paying jobs in the State of Washington,” Wroblewski wrote in a message to members before the vote.
Conner said earlier this week that the company was not bluffing in its message that the 777X line could be placed elsewhere. He said the company prefers to stay in the Puget Sound and that a positive vote by the union makes that decision easy.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.