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Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates covers top industry events to bring you the latest news, highlighting how it impacts Boeing and its competitors.

January 3, 2014 at 3:10 PM

Some Machinists changing their vote, some standing firm

If Nancy Stapleton is any indication, Boeing has made some inroads with Machinists in its latest contract offer.

Stapleton, 60, of Kent, voted “yes” Friday at the Machinists union hall in Renton, after voting “no” to Boeing’s initial offer in November. She said she was encouraged that the company backed away from a proposed change in the wage structure that would have made new hires wait 16 years to reach the top of the pay scale instead of the 6 years it takes today.

Also, Stapleton said she worries that Boeing will make good on its threat to move 777X work out of Washington state if Machinists reject the contract.

“I don’t think they’re bluffing about taking the jobs out. I call this protecting our younger generation,” said Stapleton, who was accompanied by her 11-year-old grandson Noah. “There’s a lot of jobs at stake.”

The International Association of Machinists overwhelmingly rejected Boeing’s initial contract offer Nov. 13, saying it had too many take-aways, including radical changes to the traditional, defined-benefit pension plan.

Boeing wants to freeze the pension as of October 2016 and replace it with a new retirement-savings plan. Boeing would pay into each Machinist’s account 10 percent of gross wages in the first two years of the extended contract, 6 percent in the third year and 4 percent in each year afterward.

Stapleton, a 737 mechanic with eight years at Boeing, said that while she dislikes the pension revamp, she dislikes the prospect of massive job losses even more.

“At my age, it would be hard to go out and find another job,” she said. “We could end up with a lot less than a pension if we don’t have Boeing here to give us one.”

But Steve Averill, 57, of Auburn, called Boeing’s threat to pull out of Washington state “B.S.” He pointed to production problems at the 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina.

“God bless the Carolinian people. They’re farmers,” said Averill, a 26-year Boeing veteran who works as a repair mechanic on the 737 in Renton. “They’re not fifth-generation airplane builders. We build the best jets in the world. If Boeing wants the best, they’ll stick with us.”

Driving away on his Harley from the Renton vote site, Averill shouted “Hell No” to other Machinists who seemed to be in full agreement.

Jim Goldbaum, 56, of Kent, said he voted “no” Friday because the new offer still had too many take-aways. He said labor accounts for only about 5 percent of the total costs to build a jet. “Why pick on the 5 percent?” he asked.

“We’re the ones building the plane. Why don’t they pick on the 95 percent? Because they’re cutting their own necks, is the way I see it,” said Goldbaum, a 737 lead flight-line electrician with 25 years at Boeing. “It doesn’t seem like they care about quality anymore.”

Avery Madden, 30, of Tukwila, takes a different view. He said he voted “yes” Friday, the same as he did in November, to secure Boeing jobs.

“I don’t ever want to gamble. I’ve got a family to take care of,” said Madden, who is a 737 mechanic with two years at Boeing and the father of a baby girl. Even if the pension is replaced, he said, Boeing still offers good pay and benefits, including college-tuition assistance.

“I just think at my age, there’s more ways to invest in my future. I’m not stuck on pensions just to say ‘no’ to Boeing and watch them leave,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of jobs out there I can find that match Boeing.”

— Reported by Amy Martinez

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