Machinists union ratifies Boeing deal

Dec 7, 2011

Everett Herald

By Michelle Dunlop

December 7, 2011

SEATTLE -- Boeing Co. Machinists have ratified a four-year contract extension with the jet maker, with about 74 percent of members voting Wednesday in favor of a deal that ensures the 737 MAX will be built in Renton.

"As a result of this vote, we have the strongest commitment to the future of aerospace jobs in Washington state that we've ever had," said Tom Wroblewski, president of the local Machinists union.

Union members agreed to extend their contract with Boeing until September 2016, eliminating the prospect of a Machinists strike in 2012, when the labor group's contract came due.

Machinists and Boeing leaders struck an agreement last week that both guarantees the company's re-engined 737 MAX will be built in Renton and does away with a contentious federal labor dispute. But the deal depended on union members ratifying a four-year contract extension.

The union represents about 29,000 Machinists in the Puget Sound region. Members in Kansas, Oregon and California also voted.

"I'm thrilled with the outcome and grateful to union members for supporting this landmark agreement," Jim Albaugh, president of Boeing's commercial airplanes division, wrote in a message to employees.

Earlier this year, Boeing had said it wasn't sure where it would build its new 737 MAX. The company has built its popular single-aisle aircraft in Renton for decades.

In 2008, when the Machinists' contract was last up for negotiations, the union and Boeing clashed. Machinists went on strike for 57 days, crippling jet production. The following year, Boeing decided to put a second assembly line for its new 787 in South Carolina rather than in Everett, where its original 787 line is located. At the Machinists' request, the National Labor Relations Board sued Boeing, claiming the company picked South Carolina to get back at its Machinists for strikes in the Puget Sound region -- an illegal act of retaliation under federal labor law.

Boeing denied the labor board's claims, but the controversial case was expected to take years to wind its way through the courts. As part of the new agreement, the union will ask that the case against Boeing be dropped.

On Wednesday, Boeing and union leaders said the contract signals a new way of working together.

Ratification of the contract extension "marks a new chapter of cooperation between the company and its largest union," Albaugh told employees.

The Machinists' Wroblewski said he felt confident the company and union would move forward together in a more positive way.

For approving the contract, Machinists members will receive a $5,000 signing bonus on Dec. 15. They also will get 2 percent annual raises, receive increases in pensions and will be enrolled in an incentive program as part of the contract extension.

Everett Machinist Sambo Seng has worked at Boeing for a decade. Outside the union hall in Everett on Wednesday night, Seng said she was concerned about the increase in health care costs. She also thought the annual wage increases were too low.

However, Everett Machinist Bert Bryant found nothing in the contract to dislike and voted to approve Boeing's offer. Bryant has only worked for Boeing for six months and said "only the old-timers are complaining" about the contract.

Mark Blondin, aerospace coordinator for the international union, addressed some of the members' concerns at a press conference Wednesday night.

"All negotiations are a trade-off," he said. "We gave a little on medical … but (the union's) medical benefits still lead the industry."

Many Boeing Machinists pay no monthly premiums under the existing health plan but will begin paying $20 monthly for individuals and $60 monthly for families in 2013.

Machinist and union steward Luis Delgado was directing union members where to vote Wednesday night. He voted against the contract, saying it doesn't offer the job security that union leaders say it will.

"Job security is what is important," he said.

But Wroblewski called job security the union's biggest win. And Boeing's Albaugh said the contract "ensures that the 737 MAX will be built in Renton, affirming Boeing's role as an economic engine for the region."

The labor deal has been met with a warm response from community and government leaders, who welcome the prospect of guaranteed aerospace jobs in the region.

"This is such a positive for our community as a whole," said John Monroe, chief operating officer for Economic Alliance Snohomish County. "This is not just about Boeing stability. Snohomish County has approximately 160 aerospace suppliers, with about 140 of them providing parts, goods and services to Boeing Commercial Airplanes. This stabilization has an incredibly positive effect on them and their work force."

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., called the vote a "huge step forward" for the region.

"Looking forward, this agreement enhances Washington's competitiveness to secure future manufacturing by the best aerospace workers in the world," he said in a statement.