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Inslee touts Boeing 777X deal, Machinists union rejects with 67 percent majority
From staff reports:
Gov. Jay Inslee, along with the state Legislature, put together a package to help secure an unprecedented commitment from Boeing to assemble its 777X jetliner — and the plane's carbon fiber wings — in Washington state.
However, the Machinists Union roundly rejected the deal Nov. 13 by a majority of 67 percent. Many union members cited the proposed changes to pension plans and other benefits as being the deciding factor in their "no" vote.
The union's vote leaves the whole deal in limbo.
"Winning the 777X will secure tens of thousands of jobs and yield huge economic benefits for generations to come," Inslee had announced in a news release. "And it will bolster our state's legacy as the aerospace capital of the world."
Inslee called the Legislature into special session late last week. For once, Olympia was able to come to a bipartisan agreement quickly. Legislators agreed to:
• Extend all commercial airplane tax incentives until 2040, and expand the current sales and use tax exemption on construction of buildings to manufacture "super efficient airplanes" to include all commercial airplanes and suppliers of wings and fuselages
• Expand the state's investment in education and workforce development to boost enrollment in aerospace fields at community and technical colleges, train workers for manufacturing of composite wings, and complete the Central Sound Aerospace Training Facility in Renton
• Streamline permitting actions that will speed up development and expansion of facilities at large manufacturing sites around the state
"Our Legislature stepped up in a big way today to secure our state's economic future," the governor noted. "We should all be thankful for that."
Inslee's office said the deal reached in Olympia "includes strong contingency language to ensure that all of the 777X assembly and wing assembly remains in Washington." If Boeing reneges on this part of the deal, the company will lose a "preferential B&O tax rate for the 777X," if any of the work is moved to Boeing facilities out of state.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said this deal would be beneficial for King County.
"The 777X will help drive the future prosperity of King County," he said. "Many of the people who will work on the plane live here, and many of the 478 aerospace firms in King County will be part of the 777X supply chain."
After initial reports indicated that local Machinists Union president Tom Wroblewski had made a dramatic showing of ripping up the proposed deal last week, Wroblewski's tone seemed to change a bit as the union's vote neared this week.
"This is an opportunity we will never see again to secure thousands of good-paying jobs in the State of Washington," Wroblewski wrote in a message posted to www.iam751.org. "You need to educate yourself, evaluate what’s before you, and decide what is right for you, your family and your community. This is a very personal decision, laced with emotions and repercussions. But at the end of the day, this is about 30 years of jobs in Puget Sound for us, our children and our grandchildren."
In a report in the Seattle Times, Boeing Commercial Aircraft chief executive Ray Conner indicated that if the Machinists don't comply with the new deal, Boeing would "take the work of building its new 777X jet to another state."
"It's not a bluff," Conner said in the Times report.
Wroblewski's assurances seem to have had little effect on the machinists. The union as a whole voted to reject the deal on Nov. 13 after a voting process that took the entire day. Wroblewski issued a short statement on the union's website following the vote:
“Today, the democratic process worked and our members made the decision to not accept the company’s proposal. It is my belief that we represent the best aerospace workforce in the world and hope that as a result of this vote, Boeing will not discard our skills when looking to place the 777X. We preserved something sacred by rejecting the Boeing proposal. We’ve held on to our pensions and that’s big. At a time when financial planners are talking about a ‘retirement crisis’ in America, we have preserved a tool that will help our members retire with more comfort and dignity," he wrote on the website.
Federal Way's District 30 state representatives Roger Freeman (D) and Linda Kochmar (R), along with State Sen. Tracey Eide (D), voted in favor of the legislation — House Bill 2088 and Senate Bill 5952.
"Without the current manufacturing and aerospace industry in our district, unemployment would soar," Kochmar said in a news release. "I support this bill because it will help keep Washington working."
Both Inslee and Constantine noted that the next big step for the Legislature would be to approve a transportation package aimed at improving and revitalizing the state's flagging transportation infrastructure.
"This breakthrough with Boeing underscores the need to maintain a sustainable transportation system that can efficiently move parts and supplies for Boeing, and that can efficiently move aerospace workers to their jobs," Constantine said. "There is a direct and critical link between our local transportation and our region's global competitiveness."
According to Inslee's office, the governor "is encouraged by progress on a comprehensive transportation investment package," and is continuing to urge "lawmakers to move quickly to reach a final agreement."
State Sen. Tracey Eide (D-Federal Way), co-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, issued a statement Nov. 9 regarding the Legislature’s failure to take action on a transportation revenue package.
“I am disappointed that all sides were unable to come to an agreement and pass a revenue package that would address our state’s pressing transportation needs during the special session," Eide said in the statement. "I felt this was doable and that we could have, and should have, done it. That said, I am optimistic we will resume that important work during the legislative assembly days on Nov. 21 and 22."