Boeing, politicians vow to heal rift with Machinists over 777X
As Boeing confirmed it will build the 777X wing at the Everett assembly plant, company officials and local politicians emphasized the jobs gained and said they’ll seek to soothe future relations with the Machinists union.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
As Boeing officials and Washington’s political leaders gathered Tuesday to announce that the company’s 777X wing-fabrication plant will be built in Everett, there were clear signs of the upheaval that preceded the decision.
The governor and both U.S. senators were there, but no local officials of the Machinists union, though its members will be major beneficiaries of the thousands of jobs being created.
In the final two months of last year, Boeing played hardball with the union and initiated a multistate bidding process to place the 777X work. Only after a Jan. 3 vote, when the Machinists agreed by the narrowest of margins to major concessions, did Boeing ultimately commit to build the 777X here.
Final assembly was then set for Everett, but until Tuesday it was left unclear where exactly in the state Boeing would fabricate and assemble the 777X’s giant, carbon-fiber composite wing.
At a ceremony inside Boeing’s sparkling airplane-delivery center at Paine Field, Gov. Jay Inslee looked out through the windows at a massive 747-8 freighter jet painted in the colors of the Seattle Seahawks, and declared that “Washington didn’t win one Super Bowl this year. We won two.”
“We beat the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl,” Inslee said. “But it’s more important to our state that we beat 49 other states to build the 777X and its composite wing.”
All the major players who made the 777X deal happen for Washington state — Boeing executives, a national representative of the Machinists union, and local, state and national political leaders — celebrated the future jobs gained while acknowledging the hard feelings stirred up, especially among rank-and-file Machinists.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner stressed that Boeing is making a long-term commitment to the region.
“This is a 50-year decision,” Conner said. “When we make a decision that we’re going to build something here, we’re going to be here. It’s not that easy to pick up and move these things.”
With construction of the 1 million-square-foot wing facility to begin this year on the north side of its Everett assembly plant, “We’re going to start tearing up buildings, and we’re going to start pumping hundreds of millions of dollars right here in this area,” said Conner.
As for the production workers, many of whom felt railroaded into granting major pension concessions, Conner insisted that Boeing still provides “the best pay and benefits in the entire aerospace industry.”
“Hopefully, as time moves on, we’ll be able to heal any wounds that may exist,” Conner added.
No local officials of the Machinists union, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 751, attended the event.
Instead, emphasizing the divide that opened up during the 777X drama between 751 and the union’s national leadership, IAM headquarters sent aerospace coordinator Mark Johnson.
The recent nominations for IAM national elections reflected that divide: All four units of District 751 nominated the challengers to the union’s current national leadership.
Johnson said the rift between Local 751 and the national leadership “came out of a split membership” that accepted Boeing’s offer with barely a 1 percent majority.
The IAM national leadership will “do everything we can to make it right with our people,” Johnson said.
The politicians present at the Everett ceremony also had to navigate the narrow channel between celebrating the outcome and soothing the feelings of local Machinists.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, while praising Boeing’s 777X commitment of “billions in future investment,” added that the Machinists had to make “tremendous sacrifices.”
Inslee and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen both lost the backing of Local 751 over their public push for putting the 777X deal to a decisive second vote.
Larsen, who faces re-election this year, said he understands the Machinists’ anger with him. But in the end, Boeing’s 777X selection “is the right outcome for Everett and for Washington state,” he said.
Building the new wing facility will be “a huge boon to local construction jobs” and, once built, it will “secure Everett’s place as the aerospace capital of the world for another generation,” Larsen said.
Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson said he’d make good on his promise to Boeing and ensure that construction permits are issued within four weeks of the company’s applying.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said Boeing’s 777X decision will make the region a hub of carbon-fiber composite technology. The state needs to follow up by expanding opportunities for training and research in that field, Cantwell added.
She contrasted Boeing’s 777X manufacturing plan with the troubled outsourcing of the 787 Dreamliner.
“The 777X is a story of insourcing,” said Cantwell. “It’s about bringing jobs back home here in America, right here in Washington.”
Inslee defended the concessions made to keep Boeing here — the Legislature’s passing of $8.7 billion in future tax breaks for the company and the Machinists’ agreement to freezing their traditional pensions — as essential to preserve the state’s economic future.
To the community of Washington state, Boeing and its workers are “family,” said Inslee, and when their future is threatened, you have to protect them “by any means necessary.”
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org