SEATTLE - Political pressure is building in support of letting Puget Sound machinists vote on a Boeing contract proposal in high-stakes negotiations to keep thousands of jobs in Washington state.
Leaders in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers publicly differed Friday on whether to bring Boeing's latest contract offer to a vote, exposing tensions within the union over how to proceed.
National, state and local political leaders called for a vote, even though local union leaders have already rejected the company's latest offer.
The contract would secure work on Boeing's new 777X airplane at a time when 22 states are competing for those jobs. Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement that union membership gives each worker a say in his or her future and workers should have the opportunity to exercise that right.
"That should happen soon, as I have become increasingly concerned that we are at a perilous point in our effort to bring the 777X to Washington state," said Inslee, who was endorsed by the local Machinists union in his campaign for governor last year.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen echoed those comments, expressing concern about the region's aerospace future if no labour agreement is in place and saying "the time to vote is now." Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and Snohomish County Executive John Lovick also urged the Machinists in their area to hold a vote and also urged them to approve the contract.
State Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat, and Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler sent a joint letter Friday to a local union leader, urging a vote.
"We trust that your members will make the best decision," the two senators wrote. "We respectfully ask, however, that you allow them to make that choice for themselves."
National union spokesman Frank Larkin said Friday that officials were exploring the idea of a vote after hundreds of members demanded an opportunity to have a say on the contract to secure work on the 777X. Larkin said members have always had the final say and they have every right to vote on the terms of the offer.
But local union officials said Friday they don't see any point in bringing it to a vote because it's too similar to a contract the union rejected a month ago by a 2-to-1 margin.
"So, until Boeing changes its conditions, we don't have an offer to vote on," District 751 President Tom Wroblewski said in a statement.
The latest round of contract talks collapsed Thursday after local Machinists officials said they could not recommend Boeing's latest proposal to members. Local union spokesman Bryan Corliss said Boeing has withdrawn the contract offer.
Boeing Co. spokesman Doug Alder said, however, that the offer was rejected by the union, not withdrawn. He declined further comment Friday.
Local union officials have seemed to disagree with their national leaders in recent weeks on how to handle Boeing's offers. That division was clear last month, when local members voted to reject a contract negotiated by Machinists leadership.
Boeing made changes this week to its original contract offer, backing away from a proposal that would slow the rate at which employees rise up the pay scale and adding an additional $5,000 in bonus pay. The biggest sticking point appears to be the company's insistence that workers move from a traditional defined-benefit pension to a defined-contribution savings plan.
The local Machinists said the company's latest proposal was too high of a price to pay to secure the 777X.
"I think you'll agree these were very minor changes, and not nearly enough to offset the things Boeing was trying to take away from you, and for the Machinists who will join us in the future," Wroblewski wrote in a message to members Friday morning.
Looming over the talks is the prospect that the company could build the airplane elsewhere. Chicago-based Boeing said it has received proposals from 22 states eager for the 777X jobs, with some proposing multiple sites. The company said 54 sites are now being evaluated.
In its own bid to win the 777X jobs, Washington state recently approved tax breaks for Boeing valued at $9 billion over the coming years, along with legislation to improve aerospace training programs and the permitting process.
Boeing began offering the 777X in May, but it's still finalizing plans for the plane and aiming to deliver the first aircraft by the end of the decade. Boeing has said it is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777.
Boeing received orders for 225 such planes from three airlines at the Dubai Airshow last month.
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