Boeing union approves groundbreaking pact

By:  John Gillie
Source: The News Tribune

Machinists union members gave a strong endorsement Wednesday to a labor contract extension that promises to keep final assembly of Boeing’s most popular airliner in Renton and gives the company nearly five years of labor peace.

“This is just good news for the working families in the Northwest,” said Mark Blondin, aerospace coordinator for the union.

The announcement of the 74 percent favorable vote at District Local 751 headquarters in Seattle was greeted by sustained applause from union officials and members.

In agreeing to a deal to keep 737 production in Renton, said Blondin, Boeing acknowledged that the Puget Sound area “has the deepest pool of high-skilled aerospace workers in the country.

The union official said the contract extension could be the stepping stone for bringing back company-funded pensions throughout industries in the U.S. Boeing’s pension plan for the Machinists is still a defined benefit plan, rare in industrial America. Under the new deal, retirement benefits will rise to $91 per month per year of service for Boeing workers.

Boeing too was pleased with the vote’s outcome.

“IAM-represented employees said “yes” today to a four-year contract extension that opens a new era of job security, stability and shared purpose,” said Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh in a message to Boeing workers.

“I’m thrilled with the outcome and grateful to union members for supporting this landmark agreement. I also want to thank IAM leaders for the hard work and constructive dialogue that produced this contract, which will bring great benefits to our employees, our customers, our communities and our company,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a news release that the new contract could be a harbinger of better times for the Boeing-union relationship.

“Today is the beginning of a new day for Washington state aerospace productivity. This new relationship of working together means that the next generation 737 MAX will be built here in the Pacific Northwest. This deal is a winner for the job security of Washington workers and shows our state is poised to drive aerospace innovation for another century,” she said.

The contract approval could end an era of uncertainty for local workers, Boeing and the state.

The four-year labor deal gives Boeing nearly five years of strike-free production (the prior contract runs through September) from its largest union at a time when the company is still dazed from its flawed experiment with wholesale outsourcing for its game-changing 787 Dreamliner.

The agreement will allow Boeing to concentrate on executing the redesign of its best-selling 737, creating a new 767-based aerial tanker for the Air Force, expanding its Dreamliner repertoire to include two larger versions and a possible updating of its popular 777 jet.

And the union’s ratification could end a contentious fight over Boeing’s second 787 Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina. The Machinists Union has promised to ask the National Labor Relations Board to drop its suit against Boeing for allegedly building the plant in the union-hostile state in retaliation for prior strikes in the Puget Sound area.

For the 28,000 Puget Sound area Machinists Union members, the new agreement brings unprecedented promises of job security from their employer as well as raises that look attractive at a time of economic uncertainty worldwide.

Under the agreement ratified Wednesday, union members will receive a $5,000 ratification bonus within the next 30 days, a 2 percent annual raise during the four years of the agreement, cost-of-living wage adjustments and the possibility of up to 4 percent more in annual wage bonuses based on productivity and safety achievements at Boeing plants.

For the state and the union, the deal ends the question whether Boeing would move 737 MAX production to a new plant out-of-state. The deal further guarantees that local Boeing parts production plants such as Frederickson in Pierce County and Auburn in King County will continue to produce parts for the 737.

Until the tentative deal was announced last week, Boeing said it was considering several locations including the existing Renton 737 plant and out-of-state sites for 737 MAX production. The state and local economic development officials had mounted a major retention campaign to ensure that Boeing’s 737 assembly would remain in Washington.

Some union workers said earlier Wednesday that the proposed deal wasn’t completely designed in heaven.

Higher employee costs in the proposed health coverage plan alarmed longtime Boeing worker Bill Stabilito.

“The company is doing too well for them to ask us to pay more for our health care,” said the Frederickson spar mill operator.

Stabilito said he was voting against the deal.

“I’ve spent too many years fighting against those takebacks,” he said. “It’s not time to retreat now.”

“I’d say there’s good and bad,” said Boeing mechanic Karen Eichenlaub of Graham. “The good is the stability it will bring to the company and the work force. And it’s generally a good benefits package,” she said.

“The bad are the takeaways in the medical plan,” said Eichenlaub.

The two were among hundreds of Boeing union workers voting Wednesday at Frederickson, where Boeing has a plant that builds composite tail structures for the 777 and 787 and wing parts for other commercial airliners.

Boeing composite repairman Arturo Valenzuela was upbeat about the proposal.

“I don’t begrudge Boeing for moving forward now,” he said. “They saw a potential problem coming up and they moved to nip it in the bud.”

Valenzuela said he’s seen four strikes at Boeing. They aren’t easy to endure for the work force or the company, he said.

“You don’t always recover what you’ve lost,” he said.

“In this economy with so much still uncertain, I think both sides will welcome some stability,” he said.