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Boeing Continues Showdown With Its Largest Union


Last night, members of Boeing's biggest union, its machinists, soundly rejected a company contract offer. Boeing's proposal would have cut pension and health care benefits in exchange for a promise to build the new version of its triple-seven jetliner at its Seattle area factory. The company said if the union voted no on the contract, it would look elsewhere for a place to build its new plane.

From Seattle, NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: The vote was a landmark showdown. Building the 777-X here could mean tens of thousands of well-paying jobs for decades to come. But many Boeing machinists were focused on the contracts immediate impact on them. And by a two-to-one margin they voted no on the deal. They cheered when the vote was announced last night.


KAUFMAN: Union member Thomas Campbell.

THOMAS CAMPBELL: You know what we really want it's just no take-aways. We just want to be able to make a decent living wage and be middle-class.

KAUFMAN: Boeing is posting sizeable profits and there is no question that workers in Seattle know how to build the 777 efficiently. Many union members wonder why Boeing would want to jeopardize that by building it somewhere else. And Campbell and others didn't believe the company would really do that.

CAMPBELL: It's not going to happen. It would be a complete fiasco. It would be corporate suicide for them to attempt that. And people in the factory know that and Boeing knows that.

KAUFMAN: But Boeing says it's already begun to actively pursue other option, and says it has no plans to go back to the union with a new contract.

Aviation analyst Scott Hamilton says he was surprised by the size of the no-vote, but says members of the IAM were very angry.

SCOTT HAMILTON: They were angry that they got this sprung on them with no notice whatsoever. They were angry that they had only a week to even consider the deal. They were angry at the IAM leadership. And they were angry at Boeing. They were just mad at everybody.

KAUFMAN: So what's next? The governor of Washington state, who helped push through billions of dollars in tax breaks to secure the new Boeing project isn't giving up. Alex Pietsch, a senior advisor to the governor, says his boss will continue to press Boeing to build the plane here.

ALEX PIETSCH: So after things cool off a bit here, we'll try to bring the parties back to the table and see what we can do to make that case.

KAUFMAN: As he puts it, this is a big piece of the state economy and worth fighting for.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Wendy Kaufman

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