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Boeing Machinists Reject Offer, But Inslee Says 777X Not Lost Yet

Ashley Gross

With 67 percent of the votes, Boeing machinists rejected an eight-year contract proposal that would have ensured the assembly of Boeing's 777X and carbon-fiber wing in Washington state. 

Machinists booed union officials off the stage as they prepared to announce the decision made by the 31,000 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local 751 Wednesday night. Local 751 District President Tom Wroblewski later released a statement with the decision.

"We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We've held onto our pensions, and that's big," the statement said.

Boeing, in turn, released a statement that said the company was "very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote."

"Without the terms of this contract extension, we’re left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X," the statement said.

But Gov. Jay Inslee said Washington state will continue to work "morning, afternoon, and night to win this airplane."

"We intend to compete in the coming weeks," the governor said, adding Boeing officials told him Washington state is still in the running. He added state lawmakers will continue to push forward with a transportation package to help entice Boeing.

Last week, the governor called a special session to pass tax incentives in a bid to satisfy Boeing. In just three days, state lawmakers extended aerospace tax breaks valued at $8.7 billion until 2040. 

In the days leading up to the vote, machinists voiced their concerns and held rallies in protest of the offer, which they say negates years of negotiations. The offer called for freezing the pension in 2016 and shifting employees to a 401(k)-type plan instead. The proposal also included higher health care costs. 

"Once you take those benefits away, there's no reason to work here," said John Scofield, a union steward who works on the Boeing 777. "We don't need a race to the bottom with wages as well as quality. We don't represent a large cost of this airplane."

Scofield added many machinists have lost confidence in both the union and local president Wroblewski, who last week tore up a copy of the contract. Then, on Monday, he stood alongside the governor and Boeing officials at the signing of the state's tax incentives. Union members said Wroblewski, along with Mark Johnson and Rich Mickalski, was jeered off the stage Wednesday night.

"If Tom [Wroblewski] does not step down at this point, there's a vote of no confidence on that shop floor that's been resonated back up to us union stewards," he said. "They're ready to dump this union if they don't see somebody's head on the chopping block over this."

Boeing officials have said the offer is market-leading, and the company intended to boost 401(k) contributions to ease the transition from the current pension program in 2016. Company officials said they’re facing fierce competition from Airbus and need to take steps to keep their planes affordable.

But University of Puget Sound Professor Leon Gurnberg said the machinists' vote held significance beyond Boeing and Washington state workers. He said an eight-year contract is unheard of in collective bargaining, and Boeing is asking machinists to make "amazing concessions."

"If a local as strong as the machinists were with a company that’s doing as reasonably well as Boeing is, if these concessions go through, then, in a sense, no labor local is safe," he said. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.