'Cheers And Jeers' As Boeing Machinists Narrowly OK Contract

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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David Ryder

There were "cheers and jeers" from rank-and-file union members late Friday when it was announced that a key new contract with aircraft maker Boeing had been approved by a bare majority vote, our colleagues at Seattle's KPLU report.

With 51 percent of the 24,000 or so local machinists who voted saying yes to the pact, Boeing's " 'best and final' offer [now] guarantees assembly of the next 777 widebody jet and the fabrication of the plane's carbon-fiber wing" will be done at plants in the Puget Sound region.

But while the pact passed, KPLU writes that "not all machinists were pleased. ... Jim Levitt, a machinist of 35 years who voted to reject the deal, called the results 'a setback for not only Boeing workers but American workers as a whole.' ... Mitch Rose, a third-generation Boeing worker, said he voted to reject the deal, which took away 'what my grandfather and father have fought for.' '

The Seattle Times says that "when the result was announced inside the Seattle union hall filled with militant machinists who opposed the contract, some men and women wiped away tears and a few cried openly."

The Associated Press notes that:

"Local officials of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers had urged their 30,000 members to oppose the deal, arguing that the proposal surrendered too much at a time of company profitability. They had opposed taking a vote at all but were overruled by national leaders in the Machinists union. ...

"Opponents of the contract opposed the idea of freezing the Machinists' pensions and moving workers to a defined-contribution savings plan.

"The issue fractured the union and drew unusual pleas from politicians who said the deal was necessary to support the area's economic future. Boeing has been exploring the prospect of building the 777X elsewhere, a move that could trigger a steady exodus of aerospace jobs from the place where Boeing was founded."

Other key details of the contract, according to the Seattle Times, include:

-- "Extends current contract by eight years, through 2024."

-- "Four percent general wage increase over eight years, plus cost of living."

-- A " $10,000 signing bonus now."

The contract also, KPLU says:

"Adds an extra $5,000 bonus that workers would get in 2020 and preserves the current rate at which workers move up the pay scale. Under the earlier contract that members rejected, it would have taken many more years for workers to reach the top wage level.

"But the offer also freezes worker pensions in 2016 and switches to a 401(k)-type retirement plan, and boosts matching contributions for several years to compensate."

The 777X, says the Times:

"Is a new version of Boeing's highly successful 777 twin-engine widebody jet, which is built today in Everett. Launched at the Dubai Air Show in November with record-breaking orders and commitments worth more than $52 billion after estimated discounts, the new model is scheduled to enter service around 2020.

"It will come in 400-seat and 350-seat versions and will feature new fuel-efficient engines, the largest on any airliner.

"And while today's 777 is metal except for its carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic tail, the 777X will add an advanced wing — at 114 feet, the largest ever built by Boeing — made from that same composite material."

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