They can be a combative bunch. Boeing Machinists walked out on strike in 2005 and 2008 in earlier disputes with management. In November, despite the urging of some of their senior union leadership, the machinists overwhelmingly rejected Boeing's contract.
They voted Friday on a slightly sweetened version of that contract.
The company on Thursday urged the workers to voluntarily accept the benefit cuts and wage changes. Boeing's message: Their future employment may hinge on their acceptance of a grim new reality of heightened global competition.
"Our world has changed dramatically," the company said. "Tight competition means the airplanes we are selling now are at significant discounts relative to those in the past. What we do today and tomorrow to better manage costs will have an impact on our earnings years down the road."
John Kleiboeker has worked at Boeing's Gresham plant for 16 years. He cuts and shapes aluminum, titanium and other exotic metals into aircraft parts. He's also president of the Machinists Local Lodge 63.
"They want our pension, that's the biggest single issue," he said. "I've got 15 years to retirement. If it freezes now, I'm looking at a loss of $250,000."
To make up for the lost pension, the company has offered a new 401k plan, on top of the 401k already in place, replete with some hefty initial company matches.
The 401k and other so-called defined contribution plans long ago supplanted traditional pensions as the country's dominant employment-based retirement vehicle. But unlike a pension, a 401k provides no guaranteed payments, retirement nest eggs can plummet in turbulent market conditions and all the risk for making the right investment decisions is shifted from the company to the employee.
"If I knew anything about stocks and bonds I wouldn't be working as a machinist," said Steve Bergeron, a seven-year veteran of the Gresham plant. "There are a million ways these guys can steal my money."
Kleiboeker shakes his head when asked to explain the company's hard-nosed demand for concessions. "It just doesn't make sense," he said. "The company is highly profitable. The stock is red hot. The CEO is making buckets of money."
Indeed, part of CEO McNerney's $27 million compensation in 2012 was more than $8.7 million in executive pension and supplemental retirement benefits.
The executive pensions are not on Boeing's chopping block.
The Boeing dispute has emerged as a potential disaster for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. His political epitaph could be permanently rewritten by Friday's vote.
It's not for lack of trying to accomodate the company. In barely a week in November, Inslee managed to corral the Washington Legislature into a special session, where he ramrodded through $8.7 billion in tax breaks and other goodies for Boeing. By most accounts it was the largest corporate tax break in U.S. history.
But that wasn't enough for the company. It demanded a two-fer: the tax breaks and the Machinists' concessions.
Inslee, a liberal, labor-friendly Democrat, was caught in a political vise. "I can fully understand why someone could look at this contract proposal and have a feeling that it's unfair," he said in a recent television interview. " ... But I also fully understand the realities and the real-life circumstance we face -- that this is an extremely competitive market and that people's jobs are at stake."
The situation infuriated some lawmakers, who wondered that the Northwest's long support of the company seemed to count for little. "Tax breaks and lowering wages can't be the cornerstone of our economic development policy," said Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, one of the few legislators to vote against the Boeing package.
But 22 states jumped at the change to land the Boeing 777X facility.
They may well have gulped when they got a look at Boeing's demands. The company says it needed land, building and facilities for the 777X assembly and wing production estimated to cost $10 billion. Boeing expected its new host to provide that site for "low or no-cost," according to a Boeing RFP leaked to the press.
On top of that, it wants infrastructure improvements, tax breaks and other incentives.
It's one step at a time - the first being to smooth the way for Boeing to construct a new facility to fabricate the 777X's composite plastic wing.
On deadline day for states around the U.S. to submit their bids for the 777X project, Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner met Tuesday with the Machinists union officials who last...
The tentative agreement features sizable pay raises and inclusion in a worker incentive program.