Boeing in shock as Machinists turn down contract 2 to1

Union members celebrate the rejection of the proposed Boeing contract in Seattle, Nov. 13.

Union members celebrate the rejection of the proposed Boeing contract in Seattle, Nov. 13.

Seattle — A two-to-one “no” vote by the 31,000 members of Machinists District 751 (IAM) rejected Boeing’s attempt to ram a cutback labor contract down their throats. The Nov. 13 Seattle-area vote also upended the company’s plans to consolidate its labor contract with $8.7 billion in state tax breaks for the company. The tax breaks had been forced through the Washington state legislature on Nov. 9 in a hurry-up, three-day session.

The package deal would have committed Boeing to continue assembling the redesigned 777X airplane at its Everett, Wash., plant with a supposed guarantee of 50,000 jobs. Boeing executives were then hoping to take this hugely favorable production deal to the Dubai airshow over the Nov. 16-17 weekend and take home megabillions in orders for the plane. In fact Boeing got orders of $95 billion, reported the Nov. 18 New York Times.

The IAM top leadership had apparently been in quiet negotiations with Boeing for some time on this eight-year labor contract extension, but the contract was presented to the workers as an ultimatum, with only a week or so to decide. The workers were told to agree to the contract extension or Boeing, which is heading toward record profits this year, would consider taking its 777X jobs and production elsewhere.

The proposed eight-year extension included a no-strike pledge through 2024; a 1 percent raise one year and nothing the next; converting the Machinists’ solid pension plan into a regressive 401(k); greatly increased medical plan costs; and more than doubling the time it takes new hires to reach top pay scale, from nearly 10 to 20 years.

The Machinists have gone on strike many times to gain and hold onto their benefits over the years. So the company said it would sweeten the deal with a $10,000 cash signing bonus — far less than what the workers would have to give up.

A “Vote No” rally of 400 was held outside the Everett IAM union hall on Nov. 8. Wilson Ferguson, president of the district’s Local A, called the new deal “the Walmartization of aerospace.” (Seattle Times, Nov. 11) Earlier that week, workers marched through the Everett plant on their lunch break chanting “Vote No.” Many went to the Seattle hall where District 751 Directing Business Representative Tom Wroblewski was forced to tear up the “crappy” contract instead of trying to sell it.

The state legislature had passed an $8.7 billion multiyear tax-cut package for Boeing — the largest subsidy given by a state or local government in U.S. history. This was supposedly to help keep Boeing jobs in the Seattle area, but was really craven bowing down to the company. That would probably bring on massive cuts in vital programs, including education, health care, environmental protection and much more. The state legislature is already under a court order to increase spending for basic education; the education funding crisis would only increase.

For now, the tax-cut deal has been set aside as Boeing reviews competing sites for its production and as the union and bosses take a measure of their opposing strengths.

Boeing, state politicians and the media want the Machinists to sacrifice to bring their living standards down to a “competitive” level with low-wage labor.  But Machinists are showing growing awareness that the wages and benefits they have long fought for are part of the struggle of all labor. Union wages, good pensions and full medical care are a right and must not be surrendered — especially by a strong union, experienced in the struggle.