Boeing’s machinists on Friday narrowly approved a crucial labor contract that secured thousands of jobs and billions of US dollars of economic activity for Washington state but will cost workers their pensions.
The vote of 51 percent to 49 percent to accept the deal means Boeing Co will build its new 777X jetliner and wings in the Seattle area, where Boeing has built aircraft for more than 90 years.
Had the workers rejected the offer, Boeing would have considered making the successor to its popular 777 widebody jet elsewhere, and had received offers from 22 states interested in hosting the new factory.
“This decision means Boeing hopefully will stop pursuit of another site for its 777X program,” said a somber Jim Bearden, administrative assistant to machinist District 751 president Tom Wroblewski.
“They held a gun to our head and our people were afraid,” said Lester Mullen, a District 751 council delegate who works on the current 777 jet’s wing production line.
Boeing’s reaction was in stark contrast to the mood in the Seattle union hall where the results were announced.
“The future of Boeing in the Puget Sound region has never looked brighter,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief executive Ray Conner said in a statement.
“This will put our workforce on the cutting edge of composite technology, while sustaining thousands of local jobs for years to come,” he said.
In clinching the agreement, Boeing secured the location favored by analysts and investors, who saw far lower risk in using the factory and workers who now build the 777.
Boeing also ensured that the machinists won’t have an opportunity to strike until 2024, when the new contract expires.
The decision drew praise from political leaders who had brought pressure to bear on the union to approve the deal.
“I’m very pleased that the best place in the world to build jet airliners for decades will continue for decades to come,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said in a brief media conference in the state capital, Olympia.
“This has been a long road, and I respect everyone who has worked on it, but now’s the time to come together, go build this airplane. I’m happy about that,” he added.
Addressing a concern raised by union members, Inslee said there were safeguards in recently passed state legislation giving US$8.7 billion in incentives to Boeing and the industry to ensure the plane maker keeps 777X jobs in Washington state and doesn’t open a second line in another state, as it did in South Carolina with the 787 Dreamliner.
After winning the incentives and the contract vote, “it is time for Boeing to hold up its end of the bargain,” said Representative Rick Larsen, whose congressional district includes the 777 factory.
“Washington has shown that we stand behind a strong aerospace industry. Boeing should make the same commitment to our state,” he said.
Workers had argued that with Boeing earning healthy profits, and its share price at a record high, it should not be demanding that its workers give up past contract gains.