SEATTLE — Boeing’s ties to the Pacific Northwest date back more than a century, since 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, 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.
In the contract vote late Wednesday, the International Association of Machinists District 751 rejected the proposal by a 2-1 margin. 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 long-term stability. Workers would have received a $10,000 signing bonus if they approved the deal.
Boeing had said that if the machinists rejected the deal, the popular new 777X airplane would likely be built elsewhere.
On Thursday, Boeing made good on its threats and said it is looking elsewhere to develop its 777X — and the firm may take thousands of jobs along with it.
Boeing has helped anchor western Washington state’s economy for decades, but that relationship began to fray about 15 years ago. In 2001, the company moved its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago.
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.
The governor’s office is hopeful that Boeing and the machinists can come back together in the near future to explore a potential compromise — perhaps when both sides have had a chance to cool down from the recent contract battle, said Alex Pietsch, who serves as Gov. Jay Inslee’s leader on aerospace issues.
Political leaders, including many Democrats who are closely aligned with unionized workers, declined in recent days to influence machinists’ votes but asked them to consider the broader impact on jobs and future generations.
The majority of the machinists ignored their advice.
“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.