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Boeing: 'No Plans to Re-Engage' Machinists until Contract Expires

Ashley Gross
Boeing's 777 assembly line in Everett

Boeing shot down hopes that a sweetened offer might clinch a deal with its 31,000 machinists in the Seattle area to build its next 777 wide-body jet in Washington state. 

"The contract expires in September 2016. There are no plans to re-engage with the union regarding contract negotiations until prior to contract expiration," Boeing said in a question-and-answer section on its website regarding the contract extension offer it unveiled last week. 

Machinists voted two-to-one Wednesday to reject the eight-year contract extension that included a $10,000 signing bonus. Many denounced it for raising health insurance costs and shifting workers to a 401(k)-type retirement plan from a pension starting in 2016. 

In a state where Boeing employs more people than any other company, the standoff between the machinists and the aerospace giant has been closely watched. Losing the 777x program would be particularly devastating to Everett, where the current version of the plane is built. The state estimates that 12,000 people work directly on the 777 program. 

Pursuing Options

Boeing said it's moving ahead with examining other possible locations for the jet program.

"The company has started to actively pursue its options, including those within Boeing and interest we have received from outside," the company said on its website. "We chose to engage in Puget Sound first, but with the contract rejection by the union, we will now open up the process competitively and review all options for locating the 777X work."

Gov. Inslee on Wednesday said Washington state is fully ready to compete and "win this plane." 

"We are starting a new chapter of competition for this airplane," 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.

Politicians Urge Continued Talks

Inslee said he's urging the company and the union to try to work something out. 

"Ultimately obviously we’re going to ask, and I have asked, these parties to continue talking to see if there’s an additional resolution of their disagreement someplace," Inslee said. "We’ll continue to encourage them to talk to one another to see if there’s some prospective change in that contractual relationship."

U.S. Senator Patty Murray says she's also trying to broker peace between labor and management. 

"I will continue to work to do everything I can to encourage meaningful dialogue so that both sides understand and appreciate the unique benefits they offer one another," Murray said. 

Fractured Union

Complicating the matter is figuring out who negotiates for the union. Local 751 union stewards say leaders from the international organization, the Maryland-based International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, struck the contract extension deal with Boeing without their input. 

Members were so angry with the deal and the way it was reached, they booed Local 751 District President Tom Wroblewski and two representatives from the international, Mark Johnson and Rich Michalski, off the stage after the vote results were announced. 

A spokesman for the international, Jonathan Battaglia, said Wroblewski isn't doing interviews. Battaglia didn't reply to an email or phone call asking who negotiated the contract extension. Johnson and Michalski didn't respond to an email seeking an interview.

"We’re pissed. They sold us out," said Thomas Campbell, an electrician on the 777 program. "They tried to give us this contract, which we know would destroy the union, and they’re supposed to be on our side. So right now we’re probably going to go for a vote of no confidence on our union leadership."

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.