Seattle — Workers in the Machinists union, District Local 751, expressed shock and disbelief at their main union hall here on Jan. 3. A Boeing-dictated union contract, which robbed the workers of benefits they had fought for decades to hold on to, was approved by a very narrow 51 percent of the members in a cliffhanger vote.
Many workers said Boeing “held a gun to our heads” after years of hectoring against the Seattle Machinists and the outsourcing of their jobs elsewhere. Boeing made off with the workers’ union pensions and many other benefits along with $8.7 billion in state tax breaks — the largest state tax breaks in U.S. history.
This new deal, a contract “reopener,” gives the union no right to strike for the next 11 years, until 2024. The company had much help from a motley crew of pro-company politicians and news media, along with help from the Machinists national leadership.
This all happened as the company made $1.2 billion in third-quarter profits. They had a $10 billion stock buyback in December. U.S. stocks are at a historic all-time high and Boeing is by far the Dow-Jones leader, with an 81 percent climb in 2013.
The only reason the workers submitted was because the company threatened to take 20,000 of their jobs away. Boeing strongly suggested that without concessions, it would move the entire production of the new 777x plane out of state. The Boeing 777 has been built for 20 years by machinists at the Everett, Wash., plant. These threats were repeated every day by the corporate media between November and the Jan. 3 vote.
Boeing’s restructuring out of state is part of its war against the Seattle-area “fighting Machinists.” They have held five major strikes since 1989 opposing company layoffs and attacks, including attacks on their pensions. But restructuring the production of the latest 787 plane out of state turned out to be a disaster for Boeing. So workers are very suspicious about claims that Boeing could move the 777x.
After “Vote NO” demonstrations, the company’s proposal had been rejected by the Machinists in November by a 2-to-1 vote. In further negotiations, Boeing made some concessions but still wanted major union givebacks, like elimination of union pensions. This was a best and final offer to supposedly save 20,000 jobs and $20 billion for the local economy.
The offer was made under the condition that the local IAM leadership recommend acceptance to the members. They rejected the offer, ending talks on Dec. 12.
That same day, Boeing announced that 800 to 1,200 local research jobs would be shipped out of state — one of many company restructuring moves made in 2013.
Boeing’s ultimatum offer was rescued by IAM International President Thomas Buffenbarger and national Machinist consultant Rich Michalski. Buffenbarger talked about the Boeing deal in positive terms and ordered another vote on the Boeing offer for Jan. 3.
That date was described by Machinist members as the worst possible time of the whole year, coming at the end of a 10-day holiday time-off break. It was estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the workers would be on vacation and unable to inform themselves or meet with their sisters and brothers about the proposal.
A “Vote NO” rally was held at the Machinists Seattle hall on Jan. 2. Members of the Food and Commercial Workers union, the Teamsters, the Firefighters and others came out in solidarity. The vote was held the next day.
New contract robs workers
This new contract extension replaces the Machinist union’s defined benefit pension plan with a flimsy 401k — a huge transfer of income from the workers to the bosses. It contains concessions on future wage growth. Workers will also have to pay out thousands of dollars extra in health care costs each year.
The agreement that barely 51 percent voted for is supposed to guarantee 777x production in the area around Seattle and Puget Sound. But District 751’s analysis of the Boeing proposal states that “there’s no clear statement of work, and the language in the proposal would allow Boeing to subcontract or outsource 777X work packages for any number of reasons.” (www.iam751.org)
District 751 President Tom Wroblewski accepted the vote but criticized the media and local politicians for intervening on Boeing’s side against the Machinists.
Outside the union hall, a machinist denounced the deal right after the vote, and told KFOX Channel 13 that the workers would keep fighting. The reporter said she couldn’t find anybody to speak in favor of it.
This maneuver by Boeing is blatant repression and robbery of the workers’ rights and living standards. And repression breeds resistance. That 49 percent of the workers opposed the givebacks, despite all the pressure from the company, the media and even the international union, shows the potential for a new stage in the struggle. Capital needs labor too much to keep the workers down.