Boeing’s machinists voted last Friday to accept some steep contract concessions in return for management’s promise to build the 777X in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, finally succumbing to corporate pressure to relinquish their defined benefits pension plan for a 401k-style arrangement. The vote hardly reflected any sort of consensus, however, and highlighted a rift between workers willing to stand on a principle and those who claim a responsible sense of pragmatism.
In effect, the 51 percent of the voting members who chose to ignore their leadership’s de facto recommendation to reject the terms of the eight-year contract extension have assured the primacy of their Puget Sound-area factories. In the process, they saved many of their jobs, but lost what few workers in the private sector in the U.S. still enjoy: a virtually guaranteed source of stable income throughout their retirement years.
The decision means Boeing will stop seeking alternate sites for its 777X aircraft program, the latest version of its best-selling widebody jet, and begin preparations to start final assembly and wing fabrication around the Puget Sound. It also means that workers have accepted what the union characterizes as steep concessions on health-care benefits and limits on future wage growth.
Members could vote on Boeing’s latest proposal, which came a little more than a month after they resoundingly rejected an earlier “best and final offer,” only because the IAM’s national leadership compelled local chapter leaders to hold a new vote. Local officials originally claimed that the second offer differed too little from the first to warrant distributing new ballots.
“Our members have spoken and this is the course we’ll take,” said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, which represents more than 30,000 hourly workers at Boeing plants in Puget Sound.
“All along we knew that our members wanted to build the 777X, and that it was in Boeing’s best interest to have them do it,” he added. “We recommended that our members reject the offer because we felt that the cost was too high, in terms of our lost pensions and the thousands of dollars in additional health-care costs we’ll have to pay each year.”