Union leader: Rank and file to decide on Boeing offer

By

Published:

 

SEATTLE — Washington's bid to place work on the 777X jet in the state may not be dead yet, despite the abrupt collapse Thursday of negotiations between Boeing management and the Machinists union.

The Machinists union's lead negotiator said late Thursday that rank-and-file membership will get a chance to decide on the Boeing offer that the union leadership rejected earlier in the day.

Rich Michalski, who represented the national leadership of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) in the negotiations, insisted that members must decide the final outcome.

"Once we get the information on the offer to them, they will let us know," Michalski said.

Michalski's comments strongly indicate the union will allow a vote on the latest offer, which could be one last chance for Washington to win the 777X work.

After news broke that the talks had failed, many rank-and-file Machinists wrote angry emails to reporters saying they should be allowed to vote.

The latest twist in the 777X cliffhanger followed a dramatic turn in the afternoon, when Boeing issued a statement saying union leadership had rejected what management said was its final offer.

Boeing offered union members a $15,000 signing bonus and dropped an earlier proposal to dramatically slow the rate of wage growth for new hires.

However, management insisted on eliminating the traditional pension for all employees, which according to union sources proved a big barrier.

A company statement issued after the breakdown said: "This afternoon, in response to a proposal presented yesterday by the union to secure 777X work in the Puget Sound region, Boeing presented a best and final counterproposal. That offer was rejected by the union leadership."

"We entered these discussions to address the concerns we were hearing from our employees," said Ray Conner, chief executive of Boeing Commercial Airplanes. "We've listened to the union leadership and had an open dialogue in hopes of moving toward each other. Unfortunately the offer, which would have ensured this great airplane for the Puget Sound region, was immediately rejected by the union leadership."

Boeing said its revised eight-year contract extension would have improved on the company's previous offer -- rejected last month -- with an additional lump-sum bonus of $5,000 on top of the previously offered $10,000 signing bonus.

Boeing's offer also withdrew the proposal that would have slowed the wage progression for new hires. The offer reverted to the status quo, which is that new hires go to the top of the pay scale after six years.

The initial union reaction came in a statement from IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski, who said "the price Boeing demanded was too high."

"Boeing's offer Thursday was contingent on union leadership recommending acceptance," Wroblewski said. "This we could not do."

Nevertheless, speaking by phone afterward, Michalski described the terms of the Boeing offer as "quite extraordinary." He said the offer included "a guarantee of work for 30 to 35 years."