Machinist: Boeing's Offer Negates Every Strike, Years of Progress

Nov 8, 2013

Anger has reached a fever pitch among Boeing’s 30,000 machinists in the Puget Sound region over the company’s latest labor proposal.

Boeing has said the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers must approve the eight-year contract by Wednesday in order to ensure that the next 777 jet is build in western Washington. Because the machinists still have nearly three years left on their current contract, they have no strike authority.

Wilson Ferguson, a longtime machinist at Boeing’s Commercial Delivery Center in Seattle and a district lodge president for the union, says union members are livid, especially over the company’s plan to shift employees away from a pension to a 401(k)-style retirement plan in 2016.

“If, at some point, our position as the last Mohicans with a defined pension benefit becomes untenable, then let’s have a discussion around that. Let’s have a debate. Let’s negotiate. This was not a negotiation. This was an ultimatum. And I don’t care if you’re feeding me sugar candy. If you’re holding a gun to my head, I’m not enjoying it,” Ferguson said.

Under the proposal, Boeing will boost contributions to the 401(k) plan. Employees will still collect pensions they’ve accrued until October 2016, but any additional years won’t count toward the pension.

Ferguson said agreeing to the deal would undo years of negotiations.

“We vote this thing in, we compromise our every principle, everything we’ve ever stood for. We negate every strike we’ve ever been on, and we spend the rest of our careers on our knees. That doesn’t sit well with me,” he said.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner told employees in a letter that the company wants to have a long and prosperous future with the union. But, he added, Boeing also is facing heightened competition from its main rival, Airbus, and needs to ensure competitive pricing.

“When times are good, it’s easy to forget that continued success is not guaranteed. It takes years to design, manufacture and sell airplanes—and years to feel the impact of a shifting competitive environment. We want to be proactive in designing our future,” Conner wrote.

The company said building the 777X and the carbon-fiber wing in the Seattle area would preserve thousands of jobs in the Puget Sound region.

The machinists will vote on the proposed deal on Wednesday.