Posted: Jan 3, 2014 4:42 PM
Updated: Jan 3, 2014 4:43 PM
SEATTLE (AP) A contract offer to Boeing machinists that would concede some pension and health care benefits in order to secure assembly of the company's new 777X airplane in Washington state has fractured the union.
It has drawn unusual pleas from politicians who say the deal is necessary to support the Puget Sound region's economic future. Boeing has been exploring the prospect of building the 777X elsewhere, a move that could trigger a steady exodus of aerospace jobs from a region where Boeing was founded.
Local union officials, meanwhile, urged their 30,000 members to oppose the deal that members were voting on Friday, arguing that the proposal surrenders too much at a time of company profitability. They have opposed taking a vote at all but were overruled by national leaders in the Machinists union.
Voting was scheduled for 5 a.m. to 6 p.m. Results were expected to be announced later in the night.
A few hundred workers had lined up in front the union hall in Everett, located across from Boeing, to obtain ballots Friday morning. A steady stream of workers walked inside with light blue envelopes in hand.
Tina Shrader, a Boeing worker for eight years, said she was voting no.
"I don't want to mess with my pension. I'm here for my paycheck and for my pension," Shrader said.
Bob Dennis, an inspector at Boeing for six years, said he was voting for the contract because it represented the best chance to keep the 777X jobs in Washington state.
"I don't think Boeing had to come back to the table. We forced them that way. But at the same time, I think this is our last opportunity to keep those jobs in the state," he said.
Washington state has been the most natural place for Chicago-based Boeing to build the 777X, since most of the company's production is still done in the Puget Sound area.
Boeing has offered to keep the 777X in the region but sought two big deals: An extension of tax breaks all the way to 2040 and a new contract with the Machinists union that would move workers out of a traditional pension and into a 401(k)-style retirement savings plan.
In November, state lawmakers swiftly approved the tax benefits valued at some $9 billion but the Machinists union rejected a proposed contract shortly afterward. After the initial rejection, Boeing immediately began soliciting bids from other states interested in the 777X work. The company said it received submissions for 54 locations in 22 states.
Boeing has improved its offer since the last vote by machinists. An initial plan to slow the rate that workers move up the pay scale was tossed, and the company also offered an additional $5,000 signing bonus and improved dental coverage.
Opponents of the contract oppose the idea of freezing the pension and moving workers to a defined-contribution savings plan. They also decry increased health care expenses and slower wage growth. However, some machinists would likely see their base salaries rise above $100,000 if the deal passes.
Boeing Co. began offering the 777X in May, and company officials have said they need to move swiftly to decide where the plane will be built.
Production of Boeing's 777X would likely bring thousands of well-paying jobs to whatever region wins the work. The plane is a new iteration of its strong-selling 777, and the company recently received orders for 225 new 777X planes from three airlines at the Dubai Airshow.
Boeing has said the 777X is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777.
Associated Press writer Mike Baker in Seattle and photographer Elaine Thompson in Everett contributed to this report.