Boeing union approves 777X labour deal by razor-thin margin

Boeing machinists have accepted a new contract by a 51% - 49% margin in a vote to clinch keeping major 777X assembly work in the Seattle area.

The 3 January vote came nearly two months after the Seattle-area chapter of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) rejected a less generous offer by a two-to-one margin, a move that suddenly put the future of.Boeing's manufacturing presence at its original Seattle home in question.

Boeing responded to the first IAM vote by soliciting bids from US states and Japan to assemble the 777X elsewhere.

“This decision means Boeing will hopefully stop the pursuit of a different site for the 777X aircraft programme,” says Jim Bearden, the union chapter’s administrative assistant who announced the voting results.

The local union’s embattled president, Tom Wroblewski, did not appear publicly to discuss the ballot, citing flu symptoms. Wroblewski’s leadership team had sent a letter to IAM members urging them to reject Boeing’s latest offer. But the local's opposition to the contract created an internal feud with the head of the international union organization Tom Buffenbarger, who urged Boeing's machinists to accept the deal.

“There’s been a lot of frustration and tension in the last few months, but now the vote is over,” Bearden says.

Boeing’s contract terms were deeply controversial among the machinists workforce. The company demanded that workers agree to eliminate the existing pension plan after 2016, replacing it with a defined contribution scheme called a 401(k) plan.

In return, Boeing offered each union member a $15,000 signing bonus and the guarantee of keeping the 777X and 737 Max assembly work in the Seattle area.

The union’s narrow acceptance could make Boeing’s path to certificating and delivering the 777X on schedule much easier and less expensive.

Boeing plans to deliver the first 777X by the end of the decade, and some customers would prefer to see it enter service by 2019. That leaves Boeing with only five to six years to build an assembly plant for the 71m-wide composite wing of the 777X, as well as test and certificate the completed airframe with new General Electric GE9X turbofan engines.

The controversy over the union’s vote had prompted politicians in Washington state to intervene, as they called on the IAM members repeatedly to accept Boeing’s offer despite the loss of their pension plans.

“I am pleased the 777X will be made in Washington,” says Representative Rick Larsen, a member of Congress. “It is time to move forward and start the next chapter in our state’s aerospace history.”

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