Boeing may move 777X production
Machinists in Washington state rejected contract
SEATTLE | Boeing’s ties to the Pacific Northwest date back more than a century, when William Boeing purchased a Seattle shipyard that would become his first airplane factory.
In recent years, however, those ties have been fraying, first with the company shifting its headquarters to Chicago in 2001, then with the development of a new production line in South Carolina. Now, the relationship between Boeing and Washington state is near the point of unraveling after a fiery debate among machinists this week led the workers to reject a long-term contract.
On Thursday, Boeing made good on its threats and said it is looking elsewhere to develop its popular new 777X airplane — and the company may take thousands of jobs along with it.
Boeing Co. spokesman Doug Alder declined to specify where the company is looking, saying there is no short list and that there are many places both within Boeing’s current operations and outside that are being explored. “Everything is back on the table,” he said. In 2003, Washington state lawmakers approved a broad package of tax breaks for Boeing in hopes of securing long-term work on the company’s new 787 airplane. While that plane is being built in the Puget Sound, Boeing has since developed a new production line in South Carolina and placed wing production in Japan.
Alex Pietsch, who serves as the leader on aerospace issues for Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said Thursday that he now expects fresh competition for the 777X line from South Carolina, Texas, Southern California, Utah, Alabama and Georgia.
“This is arguably the most significant prize in commercial aviation history,” Mr. Pietsch said.
In the contract vote late Wednesday, the International Association of Machinists District 751 rejected the proposal with 67 percent of the votes. Union members who called for a “no” vote did so in protest of Boeing’s push to end a traditional pension plan and increase their health care costs.
The deal would have exchanged those concessions for the long-term stability expected with the 777X line. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.
“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,” Tom Wroblewski, District 751 president, said in a statement.
The long-range, twin-aisle 777 holds about 365 passengers, making it Boeing’s second-biggest plane. Since its first flight in 1994, it has been a best-seller for Boeing, which has sold more 777s than any of its other current large planes.
In May, it began offering the revamped 777X. Boeing is still finalizing plans for the plane, but it has said it is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and to be 20 percent more fuel efficient than the current 777.
The 777X, meant to compete with the new Airbus A350, is expected to be ready by the end of this decade.