In a show of solidarity with Boeing aerospace machinists, about 150 workers from labor unions around the Puget Sound rallied in downtown Seattle’s Westlake Park on Monday night. The machinists voted last week to reject benefit cuts that Boeing had proposed in exchange for a guarantee that the company would build the new 777X airplane in state.
As cold rain fell on the park, workers belted out pro-labor chants and songs, and listened to speakers deliver remarks in support of the machinists. Among the crowd were iron, office and grocery workers, as well as painters, Teamsters and longshoreman. Many of the union members wore bright green and yellow plastic ponchos emblazoned with their local’s logos and some from the construction trades wore hardhats. The Washington State Labor Council organized the rally.
“The machinists, by taking the stand they did, are setting an example for all of us,” Jeff Johnson, The Council's President said. “We appreciate the enormous risk these workers have taken.”
Boeing proposed contract changes to the International Association of Machinists Local 751 in early November, which would’ve raised the share of health care costs the workers paid, converted the union’s pension system to a 401k-style savings plan and amended the pay structure so machinists’ wages would top out after 16, rather than 6 years. As a near-term sweetener, Boeing offered union members a $10,000 signing bonus.
The contract changes were only part of a broader deal to preserve the estimated 20,000 manufacturing jobs associated with the 777X. To create a further incentive for Boeing to build the plane here, the state Legislature passed $8.7 billion in tax breaks for the company during a special session. The machinists, nevertheless, rejected the contract deal and now Boeing is shopping around for manufacturing sites in other states.
“That airplane needs to be built here," said IAM 751 representative Jon Holden as he spoke to the crowd. "That’s the only guarantee that they will be successful in that program.” With a group of machinists behind him on the stage, Holden led the crowd in a chant at the end of his speech, thrusting his fist in the air and shouting, “Build it here!”
In addition to union representatives and labor advocates, several local politicians turned out to speak to the crowd, including Mayor Mike McGinn, newly elected Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and longtime Councilmember Nick Licata.
“I’m with you, and more politicians should stand with you too,” said McGinn, who came on stage sporting sneakers and a Mariners baseball cap.
Sawant, who is a Socialist, voiced support for a radical restructuring of the company.
“It’s the workers, the machinists who have their talent and their hard work and their ingenuity that generates all these profits,” she said. “We don’t need the executives; we need Boeing to be under democratic, public ownership by workers, by the community.”
“And why should we get military contracts,” she continued. “Let’s redo the machines to build mass transit and help society.”
Boeing announced last week that during the Dubai Airshow it had received 259 orders for the 777X, valued at over $95 billion. The company plans to begin manufacturing the jet in 2017 and says that the first plane should roll off an assembly line in 2020.
Todd Pierce, a business representative for the Painters and Allied Trades Local 1238, who worked as a floor coverer for over 20 years, said he came to the rally to support “the benefits that working people have been working for over the last 100 years.” Pierce said his father was also a member of Local 1238 and four of his kids were union grocery workers.
“Today we’re all machinists in this battle, aren’t we?” said IAM 751 representative Holden in his speech. “And we are proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you, the labor community, to defend our right to protect the things that were secured long before we got here.” He added, “We cannot just give those things away.”