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Machinists, Boeing profess optimism for a deal as contract talks begin

Boeing’s Machinists union presented its initial proposal for a new contract to the company Friday as negotiations formally opened. Afterward, both sides professed optimism that they can reach a deal without a damaging strike.

Following a news conference at the union headquarters in South Park, Jon Holden, leader of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, said in an interview: “I believe there’s a path to get an agreement.”

“There’s a lot of work to do,” he added. “We have to push them farther than they’ve gone in the past. We intend to do so.”

Boeing in a statement after the talks said it will review the IAM’s opening proposal and continue discussions “in good faith.”

“We’re confident there’s a path to a deal that addresses the needs of our employees while allowing us to compete in a very competitive global market,” Boeing said.

The bargaining group of more than 32,000 Boeing machinists includes about 1,200 who work at Boeing’s parts plant in Portland, with the rest at the company’s plants around the Puget Sound region.

At the news conference Holden reiterated some of the major contract goals:

  • Pay increases of more than 40% over three or four years.

  • A reduction in the cost of the company health care plan.

  • Restoration of the traditional pension that was taken away in 2014.

  • An ease to work rules, such as mandatory overtime.

  • A commitment from Boeing to build its next airplane here in the Puget Sound region.

A big bump in compensation and benefits seems all but guaranteed, though just how generous it will be must be hammered out in the months ahead.

Boeing has always balked at giving employees any commitment of future work. And if Boeing were to restore the defined-benefit pension, it would be pioneering a reversal of a longtime trend in corporate America to get rid of such plans.

Yet the union sees this troubled moment in the company’s history, its long-standing reputation tarnished by quality and safety concerns, as a potential pivot point when the leadership needs to make big gestures to embrace its workforce.

On the sidelines of the IAM news conference, Jason Chan, Holden’s chief of staff, said, “I hope that they understand the importance of their workers, our membership, and how that correlates to their success.”

If management does so, Chan said, “we can get to an agreement short of a work stoppage.”

Brandon Bryant, leader of IAM District W24, representing the Portland machinists, and who sits with Holden at the main table talks, agreed.

“With the leverage that we have today and the need that Boeing is recognizing — that they need us — I think we can get there,” Bryant said.

The talks will now proceed with weekly meetings of six or seven subcommittees focused on different areas of the contract, each with four or five members on each side reporting up to their top negotiators.

Main table talks where Holden and Bryant will sit opposite Mike Fitzsimmons, Boeing vice president of labor relations and chief negotiator, likely will be scheduled twice a month.

Noneconomic issues will dominate the discussions at first, with the big issues coming later. The talks will intensify after the machinists gather July 17 for a strike authorization vote at T-Mobile Park for District 751 and Mt. Hood Center for District W24/LL63.

The hope is to settle the big issues in August, before the midnight Sept. 12 contract deadline. If not, a strike could begin then.

Dan Swank, a 751 official who leads a subcommittee dealing with some of the most difficult issues, compensation and changes to job grades, said the people across the table on the company side are familiar to their union counterparts.

He said he and the other union staff deal with them on a day-to-day basis and “the relationships are good.”


Dominic Gates

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

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