SEATTLE — Tom Wroblewski, local leader of the Boeing Co. Machinists union, declined on Monday to say how he wants members to vote in Wednesday’s crucial 777X decision but emphasized the need to protect future jobs.
Both Wroblewski and Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner spoke at a ceremony where Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the legislation passed hurriedly over the weekend to meet some of Boeing’s conditions for building the 777X and its carbon-fiber wing in Washington.
Standing near Wroblewski, Conner told reporters that if the Machinists reject the company offer, Boeing’s threat to take the work of building its new 777X jet to another state is dead serious.
“It’s not a bluff,” Conner said. “My sincere hope is we don’t have to even think about that. . Really, we would prefer not to do that.”
“Hopefully we’ll get a good vote on Wednesday, then it’s easy,” Conner added. “This is our preference.”
Speaking for the first time in public since a contentious International Association of Machinists union meeting Thursday night when he tore up a copy of Boeing’s offer and denounced it in vivid terms, Wroblewski called the decision on the vote “very emotional.”
“What’s at stake here is jobs for the future, jobs to build 777X for 20 to 25 years,” Wroblewski said. His members “have to look at the proposal that really changes the way they’ve done things, that they’ve worked hard for many years to get. They need to look at this proposal and do what’s right for them, their families and the community.”
“Most importantly, this is about the future,” he added. “It’s about jobs.”
Wroblewski refused to be definitive on how he personally will vote. He said he must make the decision “just like my members,” but then repeated, “It’s about jobs and about the future.”
The legislation Inslee signed provides Boeing tax incentives through 2040, speeds regulatory approval of industrial projects, and adds funding for aerospace training.
With U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and many local politicians looking on, Inslee repeatedly stressed that what’s at stake are some 20,000 Boeing jobs and a total of 56,000 jobs overall, counting jobs created by ancillary services to those Boeing workers, from dry-cleaners to restaurants.
Boeing chief Conner said that with the 777X project, “working together we have the opportunity to do something really special . the ability to put in place, and cement for decades to come, good high-paying jobs.”
He said Boeing is “under siege by our competitors from abroad” and must move quickly on the decision as it prepares a 777X manufacturing plan that will “pump a lot of capital here.”
Boeing has promised to build 1.5 million square feet of new buildings here to do both final assembly of the 777X and also to fabricate its advanced giant wing, made from carbon fiber-reinforced plastic composite.
One concern among some union members is that the wording of Boeing’s agreement with the IAM might allow the company to subcontract the wing to a supplier, so that it would not be built by machinists.
On Saturday, Boeing spokesman Marc Birtel said that won’t happen.
“If this agreement is ratified by IAM employees, 777X wing fabrication and assembly would be performed by Boeing employees at Boeing facilities in the Puget Sound region,” said Birtel.
On Monday, Conner said the proposal to the Machinist union “is not about takeaways.”
While many machinists are upset about the proposal to cease contributions to their traditional pension in favor of a defined contribution savings plan, Conner insisted that “The reality is, we’re altering things. We’re not giving up things. Nobody is losing money here.”
“The (proposed) pension structure, although it’s different, is still a great pension structure, market-leading,” he said.
“We’re trying to ensure our mutual future here in Puget Sound. We would like to stay. That’s why we put a long-term deal in place,” said Conner.
As Conner left the event, not far behind Wroblewski, a radio reporter asked Conner if he was disappointed in the union rhetoric - a reference to the union leader’s emotional dismissal of the company proposal last Thursday.
“I’m used to that,” Conner replied. “We’re OK.”