Machinists at Boeing resoundingly voted down mid-contract concessions yesterday and then booed the union leaders who had pushed the proposal on a shocked membership.
Their contract doesn’t expire until 2016, but the company is threatening to move production of the huge new 777X aircraft out of Washington state to avoid the union.
Boeing even promised $10,000 apiece upon approval, but the workers didn’t take the bait, opposing the scheme by 67 percent.
A line snaked around the union building in Everett as workers waited to vote on a proposal they’d only learned was under discussion a week before. The 31,000 workers are members of IAM District Lodge 751.
“I’ve never seen a turnout like this,” said 35-year Machinist Jim Levitt. “There was very little in the way of signs or banners. Just a lot of workers making sure they had their say.”
Union officials were greeted by a chorus of boos as they prepared to announce the results. After announcing the 2-1 margin they beat a hasty retreat, neither addressing the union members in the hall nor holding a press conference.
The company’s proposal was not made public until last Wednesday, November 6. Immediately a website sprang up urging members to “vote no to corporate blackmail” and questioning how the proposed contract would guarantee that the work stayed in Washington. Supporters rallied on Monday.
IAM leaders conceded that the talks were more like an ultimatum than a negotiation, but asked members to consider the threat anyway.
Boeing had demanded an end to the defined-benefit pension as of 2016, ending accruals for all workers and replacing it with a 401(k)-type structure with very small company contributions.
The company also demanded steep increases in medical payments and a change to the pay structure that would mean new workers would not reach top pay for 20 years. Wage increases would have been 1 percent every other year.
Under the current step system, in a typical pay grade, Grade 4, minimum pay is $15, maximum is $35.25. Workers get raises of 50 cents an hour for the first six years, then a big jump to top pay. Under the proposed system, new hires would never get the big jump, so they would cost Boeing far less.
Getting to Be a Habit
Two years ago the IAM extended an existing contract under extortion-like conditions when Boeing threatened to move future production of the 737. That contract still has three years to run, meaning workers can’t threaten to strike.
After the vote, Boeing officials reiterated the company’s threat to shop 777X work around to other states for cheaper labor. The 777X is a wide-body jet that would compete with a forthcoming Airbus plane. It would improve on the fuel efficiency of existing 777s.
In another rushed move, Washington Governor Jay Inslee called legislators to the capital for a special session to discuss incentives to keep the 777X in Washington last week.
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