Boeing 777X Work Awaits Uncertain Union Approval

 - November 11, 2013, 1:03 PM
Boeing assembly line in Everett, Wash., where the current 777 widebody is built. (Photo: Bill Carey)

The union representing Boeing machinists scheduled a November 13 vote on a new contract offer from the company that is described as critical to its decision to base work on the new 777X widebody in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. The basing decision also depends on the state legislature’s approving an incentives package, according to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Rank and file members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) were presented with a proposed eight-year contract extension through September 2024 that would replace their pension accruals in 2016 with a company-funded retirement savings plan, among other modifications. All members would be paid a $10,000 signing bonus within 30 days of contract ratification.

According to union leadership, contract ratification would lead Boeing to build 1.5 million sq ft of new manufacturing space to perform final assembly of the 777X-8, -9 and Freighter in Everett, Wash., and fabrication and assembly of the aircraft’s carbon-fiber composite wing in the Puget Sound region.

When the tentative agreement with Boeing was announced on November 5, union leaders urged members to approve the contract. Basing 777X work in Washington state “means decades of economic activity for the region,” stated Tom Wroblewski, IAM District 751 directing business representative. “Only a project as significant as the 777X and the jobs it will bring to this region warrants consideration of the terms contained in Boeing’s proposal. While not all will agree with the proposal’s merits, we believe this is a debate and a decision that ultimately belongs to the members themselves.”

Union acceptance of the contract offer remained far from certain, however. The Seattle Times reported on November 7 that Wroblewski tore up a copy of the proposed contract at the conclusion of an “intense and raucous meeting” at the district’s headquarters. The newspaper said that “hundreds” of machinists marched the aisles of Boeing’s widebody assembly plant in Everett earlier in the day, urging the offer be rejected. Boeing later issued a statement advising that “all options are still on the table” for the basing decision. “We chose to engage in Puget Sound first, but without full acceptance by the union and legislature, we will be left with no choice but to open up the process competitively and pursue other options for locating the 777X work,” the statement read.

In parallel with the union contract vetting process, the Washington state legislature met in special session on November 7 to consider a legislative package valued at $8.7 billion that would extend commercial airplane tax incentives through 2040; streamline the process for issuing permits for plant expansion and development; and provide money for transportation infrastructure improvements. At a press conference earlier in the week, Inslee (D) said “big, bold decisions” must be made in a short period of time to land the coveted 777X work, which could produce 20,000 direct and indirect jobs. “Now we have a commitment on this project and these jobs are ours if we act now,” he said. The legislature approved the package on November 9, The Seattle Times reported.