The high-stakes game of chicken between Boeing and its union machinists is nearing an end. We’ll know Wednesday night if Boeing will guarantee that the 777X will be built in Washington or whether it will shop the work to other states.
Many Boeing machinists believe the company is bluffing, that it will come back to them with a better offer for long-term labor peace if they reject the current take-it-or-leave-it contract on the table.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner’s answer to that is simple, “It’s not a bluff,” he said. “My sincere hope is that we don’t even have to even think about doing this.”
But Conner and Boeing are ready to open the 777X competition up to other states that want this program and the thousands of jobs it will sustain, if the machinists vote this contract extension down.
“Hopefully, we can get a good vote on Wednesday, and then it’s easy,” Conner said. “We’ve done a lot of great things here, and we want to stay here. This is our preference to do that, but we’ll see how it goes and once we see what happens there, then we’ll just go through our process.”
Cai von Rumohr, an analyst for Cowen and Company, a financial services company, told KIRO Radio, “I think the risk for the IAM is, if they turn this contract down, they still would probably have a reasonable chance of keeping the 777X final assembly work, but I think they have a real risk of getting the wing work.”
Though local Machinists president Tom Wroblewski ripped up a copy of this contract last week and called it “a piece of crap.” He said his members need to look decades down the road as they vote on it Wednesday.
“This is a very emotional decision for our members, and what’s at stake here is jobs for the future,” Wroblewski said.
Wroblewski isn’t saying how he wants his members to vote, but he understands why many are upset with the changes in the pension plan and the health care payments. Those are things his union has fought hard to win over the years.
“They need to take a look at this proposal and do what’s right for them, their family and the community, but most importantly, this is about the future,” he said. “It’s about jobs.”
Conner said no one will be losing money on this deal; the contract isn’t about take aways. It’s about changes that reflect the business realities of today.
“When you look at the health care package, it’s not an incredibly big step in terms of what’s being asked to contribute and the pension structure, although it’s different, it’s still a great pension structure,” Conner said. “It’s market-leading in every single way.”
If the union votes to accept the contract extension, it would go into effect immediately.
If the contract is rejected, Boeing will start shopping the 777X and its new composite wings to other states.
Senator Patty Murray said plenty of states will be ready to take Boeing up on their offer. “I do know that the competition is very tough and there are a lot of people rooting for our failure.”