SEATTLE (AP) — Thousands of Boeing machinists in the Northwest cast their ballots Wednesday on a contentious contract proposal that would have workers exchange concessions for decades of secure jobs.
Some members of International Association of Machinists District 751 have called for a no vote, protesting Boeing Co.'s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs. Workers would get a $10,000 signing bonus if they approve the deal.
District 751 President Tom Wroblewski called it an emotional decision but said union members should consider what's best for their families. Some of the machinists voting Wednesday are in the Portland, Ore., area.
Boeing has proposed the eight-year contract extension, saying it needs the deal to assemble the new 777X in Washington state. With the threat of those jobs going to another state, lawmakers rushed to approve $8.7 billion in tax breaks last week.
Gov. Jay Inslee said ahead of the vote that he wanted the machinists to know that the package of incentives doesn't just protect taxpayers but it also protects workers.
"We can be confident that if the IAM approves this contract the work will stay here in Washington state," Inslee said in a statement.
Dian Lord, a toolmaker at Boeing's facility in Renton who is nearing retirement, said Wednesday morning she believes the company is extorting its workers by pushing a swift contract vote while threatening to place 777X operations elsewhere if machinists don't oblige. Still, Lord said she feels intense pressure to vote for the contract, especially considering that it could impact a variety of other Boeing workers and vendors should the company move elsewhere.
"I'm very conflicted," Lord said.
Political leaders, including many Democrats who are 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 makes 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.