Union chief says Boeing's latest 777X offer a $1 billion gain

SEATTLE - The international president of the Machinists union has told members that Boeing's revised contract offer is an improvement of more than $1 billion.

In a letter to union members that was dated Thursday, Tom Buffenbarger said the offer that workers will consider next week is a significant improvement over a contract the union rejected last month. Buffenbarger has scheduled the Jan. 3 vote despite the objections of local union leaders who say the latest contract offer is too similar to the last one.

Boeing is seeking a new contract with Machinists in the Puget Sound area that would move workers away from traditional pension plans. In the revised offer, Boeing has backed away from a proposal that would have slowed the rate at which employees rise up the pay scale. The company is also offering $5,000 in additional bonus money and improved dental coverage.

Boeing has vowed to build the company's new 777X airplane in the Puget Sound if the Machinists agree to the new contract.

Buffenbarger noted that Boeing started soliciting bids from other states once Machinists rejected the last contract offer. He said several states have put forth serious offers and warned that "the timeline for the Puget Sound area is expiring."

"I am duty-bound to inform the membership this vote will be the final vote on this proposed contract," Buffenbarger said.

Still, local union leaders are recommending to members that they reject the latest contract offer. In a letter, they said the contract amounts to "massive takeaways" and said it was important to reject the contract even if it meant Boeing would build the 777X elsewhere.

"If the company chooses this path of destruction, then they are responsible for it. We, as union members, do not have control over it and have a contract in place through 2016," local union leaders said.

Bryan Corliss, a spokesperson for the local IAM 751 union, told KOMO News 74 percent of that $1 billion number Buffenbarger quoted counts the reinstatement of the contract's current provisions for salary progression. Corliss says if you subtract that out, the new proposal spread out over eight years works out to about $1,000 a year on an individual basis "which is not nearly enough to make up for the losses in our retirement benefits and the increase in health care costs we'd face."

Production of Boeing's 777X would likely bring thousands of well-paying jobs to whatever region wins the work. The plane is a new iteration of its strong-selling 777, and the company recently received orders for 225 new 777X planes from three airlines at the Dubai Airshow.

Boeing began offering the 777X in May, but it's still finalizing plans for the plane and aiming to deliver the first aircraft by the end of the decade. Boeing has said it is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777.