by: Gary Horcher Updated:
Boeing machinists overwhelmingly rejected a contract proposal Wednesday that would have exchanged pensions and other worker benefits, for 20 years of secure local jobs.
67 percent of the 33,000 machinists voted to turn the offer down.
When the results were revealed to a room crowded full of emotional machinists, the crowd burst into a loud angry cheer, followed by applause. Veteran Everett machinist Neil Jacobson shouted: “This was not a contract, this was a shakedown!"
Jacobson was surrounded by machinists who felt they were sending a message to Boeing executives about pension takeaways. “If my company's CEO is going have a pension that pays him 265 plus grand a month, an obscene amount of money, then he needs to give up his pension before he even thinks about asking me to give up mine," Jacobson said.
IAM District 751 representative Tom Wroblewski agreed with the emotion in the room “We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big,” Wroblewski said in a statement.
But aviation business experts predict the no vote could cost the state tens of thousands of future local manufacturing jobs, and change Boeing’s 97-year relationship with Washington State forever.
“The rejection means Boeing will put the 777X assembly site location out to bid,” said aviation industry consultant Scott Hamilton. Hamilton predicts other states without union labor will fiercely compete for an opportunity to build the 777X, which is Boeing’s plane of the future.
Boeing 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.
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 would make that decision easy.
On Wednesday night, he reacted to the vote. “We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote,” Conner wrote.
“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,” he said.
The contract would have gone to 2024 and also given machinists a $10,000 bonus for approving it before Christmas.
Wednesday night’s outcome raises new questions.