SEATTLE — Voting is underway around the Puget Sound region Friday morning as rank and file machinists from the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union (IAM) head to the polls to pass judgment on the latest Boeing 777X labor contract. Voting will end this evening by 6PM, with results expected around 9PM Pacific Time.
If the machinists accept this latest offer, Boeing will build the airplane and its wings in Washington State, bringing an end to months of uncertainty. It would also end the hopes of over two dozen other locations around the nation that have bid for the 777X program.
Rejection would place the future of aerospace, and the tens of thousands of jobs the industry directly and indirectly supports in Washington state, up in the air. Boeing yesterday guaranteed local leaders in that if this contract offer is rejected, the critical wing manufacturing facility will go elsewhere.
Prior to today’s vote, local leaders around Puget Sound, from city councilors to mayors to editorial boards, have strongly recommended the machinists stop playing chicken with the region’s economy and approve the contract. Union leadership, at least locally, has taken the opposite stance, arguing that the contract should be voted down. Several hundred gathered yesterday afternoon at the IAM District Lodge 751 in South Seattle in a ‘vote no’ rally. Boeing has said that this will be their final offer.
A Long and Winding Road
The latest offer, which had a tumultuous road to even receiving a vote, increases the signing bonus from $10,000 to $15,000 per member. It also eliminates a new wage structure that would have seen new members climb the pay scale at a much slower rate. However, management largely stuck to their guns on the most unpalatable of provisions: pension and benefit changes (a small tweak was made to the dental plan).
IAM Local 751 leaders have been adamantly against the deal since it first came to the table during negotiations in mid-December. Initially, a vote on the offer was passed up, angering members who wished to have a chance to decide their own future. The backlash prompted finger pointing between Boeing and 751 leaders over who was to blame for the lack of a vote.
Facing pressure (and the prospect of thousands of due-paying members disappearing), IAM International stepped in [again], forcing the contract to a vote over Local 751’s deep-seated objections. Union leaders throughout Seattle have strongly recommended a ‘no’ vote, warning members “to look at the facts of the economic destruction they would live under for the next 11 years.”
If this sounds familiar, it is because it should. Boeing and the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union (IAM) have been down this road before, back in November. The initial contract offer stipulated heavy benefit cuts, pension freezes, stagnated wage tracks, and a $10,000 signing bonus.
The original offer was widely unpopular with rank and file members, who balked at what many saw as corporate extortion and hostage-taking. Adding fuel to the fire has been Boeing’s recent financial success, prompting members (and others) to buck requests to give back when there appears to be no need to. Union members in November put their money where their mouth was, voting down the initial contract by a landslide two to one margin.
Boeing responded by going shopping for alternative locations the next morning, prompting a national bidding war. A total of 54 sites across 22 states responded to a request for proposal that Boeing sent out shortly after the initial IAM rejection. It appears that those locations have been whittled down to a short list, though it is unknown who made the cut.