SEATTLE – Boeing Machinists in the Northwest rejected a contentious contract proposal Wednesday that would have exchanged concessions for decades of secure jobs.
The International Association of Machinists District 751 announced Wednesday night that the proposal was rejected by 67 percent of voters.
Some union members had called for a no vote, protesting Boeing Co.’s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.
“We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a ‘retirement crisis’ in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity,” Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president, said in a statement.
Boeing had proposed the eight-year contract extension, saying it needs the deal to assemble the new 777X in Washington. With the threat of those jobs going to another state, lawmakers rushed to approve $8.7 billion in tax breaks last week.
“Without the terms of this contract extension, we’re left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X,” Boeing said in a statement.
In a late-night press conference, Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington could have won the production of the plane without competition.
“This is a tough night for the state of Washington,” Inslee said. “We could have had a big win tonight. We could have grabbed the brass ring for this airplane. But I want to say this, what we were unable to finish tonight, means that we are starting a new chapter of competition for this airplane.”
Inslee said Boeing officials assured him that Washington was still a contender.
Inslee added that the state would still have a strong showing, citing the recent tax incentives package that was quickly passed by the Legislature, a potential transportation package the governor still hopes could be taken up in coming weeks, as well as the “best aerospace workers in the world.”
Political leaders, including many Democrats closely aligned with unionized workers, declined in recent days to encourage Machinists how to vote but asked them to consider the broader impact on jobs and future generations. IAM leaders issued a similar message, with Wroblewski saying the vote is about 30 years of jobs for the region.
“This is an opportunity we will never see again to secure thousands of good-paying jobs in the State of Washington,” Wroblewski wrote in a message to members before the vote.
Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said earlier this week that the company was not bluffing in its message that the 777X line could be placed elsewhere. He said the company prefers to stay in the Puget Sound and that a positive vote by the union would have made that decision easy.
Along with extending tax breaks to 2040, lawmakers this past weekend also approved millions of dollars for training programs for aerospace workers. Lawmakers have also said that Boeing supports the development of a large transportation package, and the Legislature is still exploring a plan valued at about $10 billion.