December 1, 2011 in Business

Machinists vote next week

Dominic Gates Seattle Times
Associated Press photo

Tom Wroblewski, center, president of Boeing Machinists Union District Lodge 751, announces Wednesday that the Boeing Co. and the Machinists union had reached a tentative agreement to build the new Boeing 737 MAX airplane in Renton, Wash., and enter into a new four-year labor contract.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – The tentative agreement announced Wednesday between Boeing and the Machinists union is expected to settle the National Labor Relations Board case against the company and may also bring more Air Force tanker work to Washington state’s Puget Sound region.

A four-year contract extension is also part of the pact, said local district Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Members must approve the agreement, and union leaders who have endorsed the contract said it will be put to a swift vote next week.

Job security provisions in the agreement stipulate that if Boeing closes down its defense plant in Wichita, Kan. – a step it is considering – then the work of finishing the installation of military systems on the Air Force tanker will be done at Boeing’s Puget Sound area facilities.

The contract extension comes 10 months before the existing contract expires. The union pushed to nail a contract down early to ensure that Washington keeps final assembly of the modernized 737, which Boeing had earlier this year opened up to other locations.

For Boeing management, one impetus was securing labor peace for several years as it prepares a sharp production ramp-up.

But another key element was the NLRB case, in which the company is accused of illegally retaliating against the union when it chose South Carolina as the location of a second 787 assembly line in 2009.

The general counsel of the NLRB, and likely the Obama administration, will have to sign off on any formal settlement of the case, but the union made clear Wednesday that it will push to end the controversial case.

“If this agreement is ratified, we will engage the government in discussion and inform them that our issues with the Boeing company are behind us,” said Tom Wroblewski, president of Lodge 751.

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., said that although the NLRB case has become a hot political issue, with Republican candidates in the presidential campaign taking Boeing’s side against the federal agency, he sees no political obstacle to a settlement because Boeing’s 787 work in North Charleston, S.C., will also be secured.

“The people in South Carolina are going to be happy,” said Dicks. “They won’t object to this case going away.”

Wroblewski said union members’ success in working to fix issues on the 787 and the 747-8 and to win the Air Force tanker contract are “all things that have driven the company to come and engage with us.”

The agreement includes a $5,000 signing bonus, payable immediately upon ratification, and annual general wage increases of 2 percent.

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