Schism In Machinists' Union Leaves Boeing Offer Up In The Air

Dec 13, 2013

Boeing machinists in Washington state are trying to figure out whether they'll have a chance to vote on an offer the company made Thursday that would guarantee production of the 777X wide-body jet in the Puget Sound region. 

District President Tom Wroblewski, in a statement posted on the website of the union's District Lodge 751, said the company withdrew its offer when he said he couldn't recommend acceptance to his 30,000 members. 

"As union leaders, we couldn’t go onto the shop floor to ask you to accept this proposal," Wroblewski wrote. "Despite what Boeing is saying, the offer was almost identical to the one you rejected by a 2-to-1 margin on Nov. 13."

The company's offer would add a $5,000 bonus in 2020 to the initial offering of $10,000 signing bonus and maintain the current rate of pay increases. However, it would still freeze the pension in 2016 and shifted workers to a 401(k)-style retirement plan. 

The two sides have been sending mixed messages about whether the proposal is still alive.

Company spokesman Doug Alder told KPLU Thursday evening that the offer is still on the table and that it's up to union leadership whether to have members vote on it. In a statement on Friday, the company said, "The union leadership rejected Boeing’s best and final counterproposal. Boeing did not withdraw its counterproposal, nor was there any need to do so, because the counterproposal was rejected."

A person close to the union who declined to be identified said the idea that the offer is still on the table is a shift from what they were told Thursday.

Maybe a Vote? 

However, the Seattle Times reported that lead negotiator Rich Michalski, who represented the union's international organization, said union members will have a chance to vote on the offer. And the Associated Press reported that a spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers' headquarters in Maryland said the union is mulling the logistics of having members vote on the offer. 

Michalski did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment.

District Lodge 751 spokesman Bryan Corliss said they're trying to get clarity from the union's international organization as to what their thinking is on a possible vote. In the meantime, Wroblewski in his statement played down that idea. 

"I’m sorry that there has been confusion over this issue, especially by the reported comments of the retired leader from our International headquarters, who seems to be suggesting there’s still an offer hiding out there somewhere, just waiting for you to vote on," Wroblewski said. "I understand that many of you are frustrated, and I don’t blame you."

Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday issued a statement urging both sides to allow machinists to vote on the proposal. 

"We’ve heard from some rank and file members and from leadership of the International that the agreement that emerged deserves a vote. That should happen soon as I have become increasingly concerned that we are at a perilous point in our effort to bring the 777X to Washington state," Inslee said.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., echoed the governor's sentiments. 

“To date, I have avoided telling machinists how and when they should vote, so I hope I have the credibility to make this statement: the time to vote is now," Larsen said. "If Boeing moves production of the 777X away from Everett, the future of all large-scale aerospace manufacturing in Washington state would be in doubt."

At stake are thousands of jobs. The current version of the 777 is built in Boeing's Everett facility and the company is critical to Washington state's economy. It is the biggest private-sector employer in the state, with about 82,000 workers. 

#LetMachinistsVOTE

Union members erupted on Twitter and Facebook after learning union leaders had turned the offer down. Some have been leaving one-word comments on the union's Facebook page, saying simply: "Vote!" On Twitter, they've been tweeting support for the offer with the hashtag #LetMachinistsVOTE

Joe Darosh, a union member in Boeing's Auburn facility who has been with the company for two and a half years, said he voted in favor of the previous contract. He added his co-workers also support the company's most recent offer. 

"I think we should put it to vote, and if it does go up to vote, it's going to pass," Darosh said. "It's not going to be a close one. It's going to be big." 

Darosh said he prefers having a 401(k) retirement account instead of a pension, and Boeing workers can't expect the same kind of benefits they had in the 1970s or 1980s. He said he paid $350 every two weeks for health insurance at a non-unionized company in Virginia before coming to Boeing. 

"There's a lot of people coming in that have experienced what it's like in the private sector outside of the Boeing gates, and it's rough out there," Darosh said. "And I don't think a lot of people know how good they actually have it."

Still, other union members criticized Boeing's offer, especially for continuing to push the pension change. 

"We're still willing to be their best friend and their ally in the 777X, but they're just asking too much of us," said Wilson Ferguson, who has been a Boeing machinist for 26 years.