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Boeing, Machinists in Washington return to bargaining

This article reprinted from the St. Louis Post Dispatch 12/12/13

One day after Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed a bill to give Boeing Co. $1.7 billion to build the 777X in St. Louis, the company restarted talks with the Machinists union in a move to secure production of the new aircraft in Everett, Wash.

Senior company executives and top union officials met Wednesday at the Renton, Wash., headquarters of Boeing’s commercial airplanes division, to discuss how a contract offer rejected by union members on Nov. 13 could be modified to make it acceptable, the Seattle Times reported.

The contract rejection set off a scramble by several states, including Missouri, to land 777X production and the 8,500 high-paying jobs it would bring.

Boeing set a Tuesday deadline for proposals; at least a dozen states said they had prepared offers for the company.

No state, however, had a more visible effort than Missouri, where Nixon called a special session of lawmakers to put together one of the richest incentive packages to a private company ever offered by the state. To sweeten the deal, the St. Louis County Council voted on Monday to add another $1.8 billion, bringing the total package of incentives to $3.5 billion.

Missouri’s effort will fall short if union negotiators are successful this time.

In a note Wednesday to International Association of Machinists members, District 751 President Tom Wroblewski said, “The goal of today’s meeting is to see what the two sides can do to secure Puget Sound as the site for 777X fabrication and final assembly.

“Our membership wants to build this airplane, and we believe Boeing wants to do it here,” Wroblewski said.

According to the Times, a person with knowledge of talks said things are moving fast, and, if the talks are successful, a new vote on a contract extension could be held before Dec. 25.

The last negotiations were held in secret, but the terms of the offer that emerged — including a pension freeze and a dramatically slower wage progression for new hires — were soundly rejected by the membership.

This time, the union seems to want to be more open with its membership.

Boeing spokesman Doug Alder declined to provide any details on the negotiations.

“As we’ve said from the beginning of the 777X site selection process, we continue to look at all of our options,” Alder said. “As we start evaluating the proposals, we’ll engage with all interested parties.”

If a deal is reached with the Machinists, it would abruptly end the site search competition and secure all the 777X work for Washington state, which has already approved nearly $9 billion in incentives to the company.

Among the states that said they would pursue the 777X are Alabama, California, Georgia, Kansas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

Illinois also joined the list of contenders, with MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah emerging as a potential site.

Dave Roeder, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Commerce, said he couldn’t divulge any details of his state’s pitch.

MidAmerica Airport Director Tim Cantwell also said he couldn’t comment because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement — a step Boeing has required of everyone who has seen the request for proposals.

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