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Workers’ Victory of Last November Reversed — Boeing Gets Concessions from IAM After All

(with the help of Democrat politicians, big business media, and bowing-and-scraping officials in the union’s top brass)

by Ann Montague

[An earlier version of this article was posted on the Socialist Action web site Jan. 9, 2014]

Boeing workers

In November, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) District Lodge 751 showed the labor movement what a fightback looks like. The machinists organized, rallied, and received solidarity from throughout the Seattle area for their struggle against Boeing, both from other unions and from activist supporters, such as Kshama Sawant (see her statement, below). Boeing was demanding major concessions in the middle of the machinists’ current contract and used threats to leave Washington and build the 777X in another state in order to get what it wanted.

Boeing’s demands for big concessions on pension and health benefits started only days after Washington’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee signed the biggest state tax break in history into law—a package that will give Boeing up to $8.7 billion in benefits through 2040.

In November, members of IAM Lodge 751 called Boeing’s bluff and rejected its blackmail proposal 67% to 33%. Other unionists across the country took heart in the machinists’ victory. Lodge 751 has a militant record. It has gone on strike five times in recent years, and yet Boeing was now trying to coerce the Lodge 751 members to accept concessions that included ending their defined benefit pensions. Since the current contract had not yet elapsed when this threat took place, the workers could not legally strike.

After the machinists had rejected the concessions, Boeing commenced a high-profile cross-country jaunt, meeting with local politicians in other states concerning deals to move operations to their areas. Armed with a renewed threat to relocate, they then came back to Seattle with another proposal for the machinists. The local leadership rejected the new offer, stating that it was not substantially different from the one they had just rejected. Thomas Wroblewski, president of District Lodge 751, said, “Because of the massive takeaways, the union is adamantly recommending members reject this offer.”

IAM Lodge 751’s leaders opposed Boeing’s demand that the machinists approve a deal that would freeze their pensions in favor of less generous, riskier 401(k) plans, and eliminate pensions for new hires. These leaders also voiced dismay that the deal would increase out-of-pocket health spending (by as much as $4,000 over 2011 levels during the life of the contract), and that it would include raises of merely 1 percent every other year.

But in December, the IAM “International leadership” stepped in and forced the local to hold another vote. They scheduled the vote for Friday, Jan. 3, before many members had returned from vacations during the holiday plant shutdown. Many machinists also say they were not given enough time to study and discuss the revised proposal. The new vote was announced four days before Christmas. It passed 51% to 49% (by a slime margin of only 600 votes). The revised contract will ban workers from striking until 2024. To sweeten the taste of the concessions Boeing won, the company will give each worker a “bonus” of $10,000 later this month, and another $5,000 in 2020.

Jim Levitt, a 35-year machinist at Boeing, described the voting procedure in Everett, Wash., the location of the largest airplane assembly plant in the world: “Members needed an eligibility card, sent to them by mail, to obtain a ballot to vote on the contract. A huge number did not receive the card in time. They thus needed to obtain a ‘good standing’ card, requiring a stop at the front desk in the union hall. Problem: only two or three office employees were available at the Everett hall. There are only two or three computers for them to use to check the necessary rosters in any case. Result: thousands of union members spent two hours or more waiting in line out in the cold outside the union hall. I’m astonished there wasn’t an explosion.”

Jim Bearden, a spokesperson for IAM District Lodge 751, told the media that Boeing production workers “faced tremendous pressure from every source imaginable. The politicians and the media, and others, who truly didn’t have a right to get into our business, were aligned against us and did their best to influence our folks’ votes.”

Connie Kelliher, IAM Lodge 751’s director of communications, commented that one-third of the workers were on vacation when the vote was called. Many members were still on vacation the day of the vote. Less than half the members voted, and many are calling for a revote or a recount.

She noted that by forcing a second vote the International officials gave Boeing time to start their campaign against the machinists. Starting from November, after the first vote was taken, Boeing and its allies carried out a major propaganda campaign, including round-the-clock radio ads telling machinists they would lose their jobs and be responsible for the financial ruin of the state of Washington.

Thousands of flyers flooded the factories in the days right before the second vote. And because there is a contract in place for the next two years, the right to strike was taken away if there was a “no” vote. “We did not have that weapon,” Kelliher stated.

The request for a revote is problematic. It has to go to the International‘s top officials for a decision—but they are the ones who chose the Jan. 3 date in the first place.

Boeing executives chose to remain silent on Jan. 4, the day after the Machinists’ vote. But the Seattle Times stated that top officials from IAM headquarters, who were in Gov. Jay Inslee’s office at the time, were “almost giddy” over their “success.” “It’s going to be sunny in Seattle for another 40 or 50 years,” gushed Rich Michalski, who represented the IAM top brass in the 777X negotiations.

“Boeing is going to be here forever now. It’s all about being able to compete with the rest of the world,” he added, sounding just like a Boeing executive.

Local aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton says that though the 777X deal puts this state in a better position to win the work of building future Boeing airplanes, it’s “hyperbole” to talk about guaranteeing future work. When the jet-maker launches its next new airplanes, likely a 757 replacement around 2019 or a 737 replacement around 2020, “Boeing will take us through this all over again,” he said.

“Boeing will come back to the unions and say, ‘Give us more concessions,’” Hamilton said. “It will come back to the state and say, ‘Give us more tax breaks.’

Wilson Ferguson, president of Local A (the largest local within District Lodge 751), stated in a message to his members, “There is a lot of talk of pulling out of the International, [but] that is a self-defeating proposition. Our best strategy is to remove Buffy (IAM President Tom Buffenbarger) from office. That campaign starts today. The loss of our pension is a big blow. Not only to us but to workers across the country.” The new system places more of the risk of retirement security on the workers, leaving the company largely risk-free. It will match employee contributions up to a certain level, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t seek to cut that commitment in the future.

John Kleiboeker, a Boeing worker of 16 years and the president of the Machinists local Lodge 63 told The Oregonian, “I’ve got 15 years to retirement and I am looking at a loss of $250,000.”

There will also be a loss to the white-collar workers at Boeing, organized in the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA). Those 21,000 local members will clearly be next in line to have their pensions frozen when the union’s contract expires in 2016. Weakening Boeing’s strongest union will make SPEEA’s position much weaker.

Perhaps the most shocking concession of all—given the claims of politicians and IAM officials that this offer had to be accepted to preserve jobs building the 777X—is contract language that allows Boeing to outsource union work. It reads: “Boeing may contract or outsource certain 777X wing fabrication and assembly work packages in whole or part.”

This contract creates a new “normal.” Why wait until a contract is expiring? Just tell the union that it has to make concessions, and that it has to be done now, not during contract negotiations, in order to eliminate the right to strike.

Clearly, the anger against the International’s role in this travesty is boiling over. Jay Cronk and Karen Asuncion are running a reform campaign that, among other points, calls for:

For the complete platform of this union opposition group, see IAMreform.org.

These are important reforms, but hopefully after the Boeing defeat these oppositionists will expand their platform to include new strategies that will be based on a class-struggle perspective. They need to tell Boeing: “You can’t escape us! If you flee to South Carolina or Alabama or anywhere else, we’ll follow you there, organize the workers, and make your corporate lives a living hell!”


Disappointed but not surprised about Boeing and the IAM

by Eduardo Quintana

The author is a retired former president of IAM Local Lodge 933, Tucson, Arizona

How could it be otherwise? Reopened contract? One week to vote? Election forced on them by the International, spearheaded by a retired (not accountable to future elections, former vice-president of the IAM). Boom. Politicians pressuring, pension stealing, health costs rising, eight-year concessionary contract accepted.

Giving up pensions for new hires means no one will have them in the future. It is also part of the relentless attack on unions that has been going on since Reagan’s destruction of PATCO in 1981. It is union busting on the installment plan, with a long-term perspective that will never stop. It is part of the plan to pauperize the entire working class and turn the clock back to the time of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and debtors’ prisons.

It is corporations and their government using the same divide-and-conquer strategy that pits worker against worker, union member against union member, local unions against international, region against region, young against old, Black against White or White against Brown (Arizona’s SB 1070), the future against the present, right-to-work states against closed shop, Washington against Utah, Texas, and South Carolina.

Unions, including my local, have been reeling from this strategy for years, most years, accepting concessions because of strategies that promote meek collaboration instead of courageous fight-back. On the shop floor it is “look out for yourself” individualistic self-interest instead of collective self-defense of all members. It is business unionism (you elected us to lead, go away and let us lead) instead of reliance on our collective strength. In the political arena, our strategy means accepting a so-called compromise between Democrats (supposedly pro-worker) and Republicans (pro-corporate) where working people lose every time.

These types of concessionary contracts and losses will continue until unions reject individualistic self-interest, build independent political action and embrace solidarity of the entire working class.

“Workers of the world awaken. Break your chains, demand your rights. All the wealth you make is taken, by exploiting parasites. Shall you kneel in deep submission from your cradle to your grave? Is the height of your ambition to be a good and willing slave?”—Joe Hill

The assault on us, the working people, will never end until we end it.


[The following statement was posted on the web site votesawant.org on November 18, 2013]

Boeing — Stop the Blackmailing

In solidarity with the community, and in support of workers rights, Seattle City Council Member-Elect Kshama Sawant will speak at the Boeing Machinists rally today at Westlake Plaza at 4pm.

A solidarity statement from Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative is below.

Defend Wages and Jobs

Boeing Corp is racking up record profits, yet CEO Jim McNerney - in between campaigning for cuts to Social Security – is now demanding an end to the company's defined-benefit pension fund for Boeing machinists. McNerney would, if he retired today, get a quarter-million dollar a month pension from that very fund.

Boeing's attacks on its workforce, together with the company's demand for $8.7 billion in concessions from the State [of Washington]—to be paid for out of increased taxes on all workers and small businesses—can only be described as corporate blackmail. Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative stand in solidarity with Boeing workers in the face of these attacks.

Democratic Governor Jay Inslee called a special session of the state legislature to ram through the largest corporate tax giveaway in history. Only two state legislators dared vote against. Clearly, Boeing owns 99% of the state government. Meanwhile, King County Metro announced plans to implement a 17% service cut because the same state legislators failed to pass a transportation bill.

Although the existing contract does not expire until 2016, Boeing is demanding permanent changes in the structure of its pension system and in healthcare, as well as an eight-year contract extension that would limit raises to one percent every other year. They are also demanding an extension of the no-strike clause that is already in effect from three to eleven years.

Not just Boeing employees but workers and the self-employed of the entire region will suffer if the contract changes and taxpayer-funded subsidies go into effect, through the massively reduced buying power of new employees and retirees as well as having to pay higher taxes to cover the cost of Boeing's corporate welfare.

Members of the International Association of Machinists bravely stood up to Boeing’s bullying and voted down Boeing's demands by more than 2–1. “What we’re hearing from the Boeing Machinists right now isn’t just the usual labor-management posturing,” wrote Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times. “It's a primal scream of the middle class” [actually, the working class]. He added, “You can see why people around here are starting to vote for the socialists.”

Pro-corporate journalists have launched a propaganda war attacking the hardwon gains of Boeing employees, claiming that “resistance is futile,” that Boeing can easily transfer work to non-union South Carolina or elsewhere and that workers have no choice but to give concessions or face massive job losses.

But previous giveaways have failed to stop the aerospace giant from taking work out of state and indeed out of the hemisphere. Claims by Democrats that “"this time we’ll get an ironclad guarantee” ring pitifully hollow in view of this history. The same was said of the $3.2 billon handout to Boeing in 2003, which was supposed to keep the Dreamliner in-state, but six years later Boeing used that money to build the Charleston [South Carolina] plant which is now being used to back up the current threat.

These latest attacks by Boeing show the need for building a strong challenge to corporate power and their politicians. How much money and resources did the labor movement pour into electing Jay Inslee and the Washington State Democrats? And for what? Unions need to start running our own independent working class candidates who will campaign for taxing Boeing and other giant Washington corporations to fully fund public transit, education, and social services.

If Boeing actually goes ahead and carries out its threats to move production out of Washington, we should call it by its name—economic terrorism. This would devastate the lives of tens of thousands of workers, entire communities, and the economy of our state.

The only viable response to such a situation is to say the needs of the people of Washington—thesame ones who have subsidized Boeing with tens of billions of taxpayer handouts—come first. While Boeing CEO’s are free to leave, Boeing's assets—including the intellectual property developed by generations of dedicated engineers and machinists—would need to be taken into democratic public ownership.

Under democratic public control, its factories could be rapidly re-tooled to produce wind turbines, solar panels, trains, buses, and other vital goods which would create tens of thousands of new union jobs.

Defenders of the free market (i.e. the “right” of Boeing CEO’s to pillage workers and society for their private gain) will claim that taking corporations into public ownership, even when done for the public good, infringes on the corporation’s property rights.

But they conveniently forget that in 1987 the Legislature went into special session at Boeing’s urging to pass a law uniquely designed to block billionaire T Boone Pickens from a hostile takeover. Lawmakers weren’t afraid to mess with Pickens’ rights in the free market on that occasion. Workers should reject the attempts of Democrats like Inslee and Reuben Carlyle to cave in to Boeing.

Working people have suffered decades of attacks on our living standards by Corporate America. Enough is enough. It is time to draw a line in the sand. Let’s unite to support the workers at Boeing and send a clear message to the CEO’s and the corporate politicians that we reject their blackmail!


[The following Reuters item appeared on Jan. 10, 2014]

Boeing Machinist Campaigns to Replace National Union Leaders

by Bill Rigby and Alwyn Scott

IAM 751

(Reuters) — A Seattle-area Boeing Co (BA.N) worker is one of two men campaigning to replace the national leadership of the International Association of Machinists in the wake of bitter infighting over the plane-maker's latest labor contract.

Boeing's IAM members narrowly approved the contract last week, effectively sacrificing their pensions for guaranteed work on the new 777X jet.

But the contract vote left deep divisions between local union activists, who generally opposed the deal, and the national union leadership who supported it.

If the local workers are successful in winning control of the national union, it would likely give rise to a much more militant workforce that could pose a long-term threat for Boeing, which has a checkered past with its Seattle-area workers and has lost 200 days of production over the last 25 years to strikes.

Jason Redrup, a member of the Seattle-based IAM local 751, and Jay Cronk, a former employee of the national union, told Reuters they are planning to run for vice president and president of the IAM, respectively.

That would be a direct challenge to R. Thomas Buffenbarger, who has been IAM president since 1997. It would be the first contested IAM leadership election in decades, according to local union representatives.

Buffenbarger disagreed with that characterization and said that to get on the ballot, he has to garner 25 nominations from the more than 900 local IAM lodges, as would any candidate.

“We all run for nomination,” he told Reuters.

Last August, the IAM agreed to hold new nominations and new elections for its leadership after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s  Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS).

The investigation found the union didn't provide notice of nomination and "members were denied reasonable opportunity to nominate candidates when some members were working at the time," the OLMS said.

Redrup and Cronk are angry over the way last week's contract vote unfolded, especially the timing of the ballot on Jan 3, when Redrup said many of the older machinists—who have earned more vacation days through seniority—were away from the area.

Older machinists were generally more motivated to protect their hard-won pensions, whereas their younger colleagues voiced more concern that failing to vote for the contract would cost them their jobs if Boeing moved the work elsewhere.

About 8,000 of 31,000 eligible machinists did not cast a vote last week, as the sweetened contract was approved by only 600 votes in a slim 51 percent majority. A vote on the first version of the contract, in November, was firmly rejected [by 67 percent], and only 5,000 failed to vote.