Boeing reviewing 54 sites to construct 777X planes

Union chiefs balk at concessions; numerous states interested

By Julie Johnsson (Bloomberg)

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Published: Sun 15 Dec 2013, 10:04 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 5:26 AM

Many states are tempted by the prospect of attracting thousands of aerospace jobs from Boeing. — Bloomberg

Boeing is reviewing 54 sites in 22 states to build its 777X aircraft after union chiefs balked at contract concessions and said rank-and-file members wouldn’t vote on the company’s latest terms.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, trying to keep work on the jet in Boeing’s Seattle commercial hub, urged a Machinists local yesterday to allow balloting on the givebacks. Leaders at the Machinists’ District 751 turned down Boeing’s offer on November 12, saying it was little changed from a plan rejected last month.

A possible second vote hinges on a technicality: whether Boeing’s latest proposal is still on the table or has been withdrawn, said Frank Larkin, a spokesman for the international union. Last month, union members rejected Boeing’s demands for concessions in exchange for keeping assembly of the 777X, the company’s first jet for the 2020s, in the Puget Sound region.

“We’ve heard from some rank-and-file members and from leadership of the international that the agreement that emerged deserves a vote,” Inslee, a Democrat, said in a statement.

“That should happen soon as I have become increasingly concerned that we are at a perilous point in our effort to bring the 777X to Washington state.”

With talks concluded, Chicago-based Boeing is shifting focus to proposals from states vying to host assembly of the 777X, carbon-fibre wing and other parts, said Doug Alder, a spokesman. With the exception of some 787 Dreamliners in South Carolina, Boeing builds all its commercial planes near Seattle.

Multiple locations

Many states submitted multiple locations for consideration, tempted by the prospect of attracting thousands of aerospace jobs. Boeing plans to move quickly to winnow the list, making a decision on a 777 venue early next year, Alder said in a telephone interview. Boeing had promised to keep the 777X assembly and its composite wing in Washington in exchange for freezing pensions in 2016 and shifting employees to a 401(k)-like retirement programme. Its latest proposal, a response to a December 11 union offer, dropped an earlier demand slowing the rate at which workers advance to the top of the pay scale to 13 years from the current rate of six years.

“We’ve listened to the union leadership and had an open dialogue in hopes of moving toward each other,” Ray Conner, chief executive officer of Boeing’s commercial aircraft unit, said in an e-mailed statement. “Unfortunately the offer, which would have ensured this great airplane for the Puget Sound region, was immediately rejected by the union leadership.”

Machinists couldn’t accept the planemaker’s offer because sweeteners like added $5,000 bonuses per member and better dental benefits “are not nearly enough to offset the things Boeing was trying to take away from you, and for the Machinists who will join us in the future,” said District 751 president Tom Wroblewski.

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