Union infighting may complicate Washington effort to win 777 work

Reuters

By Jonathan Kaminsky

OLYMPIA, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The leader of Boeing Co's main union in Washington faces a revolt that could complicateefforts to bring the new 777 jetliner to the Seattle area, asthe airplane maker moves to consider alternative buildings sitesfor the revamped plane.

Boeing formally launched the new 777, formerly codenamed777X, on Sunday with 259 orders worth more than $95 billion atlist prices - the largest combined order in its history. The jetis due to enter service around 2020.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner toldreporters in Dubai on Saturday that Boeing hasn't changed thetiming of the aircraft's arrival, and it is negotiating withother states after the International Association of Machinistsand Aerospace Workers union rejected a contract offer thatBoeing said was necessary for the jet to be built inWashington.

"We have got to put brick and mortar in place to do the wingand maybe some other things, so we have to make some decisionsabout where we are going to be long term, so we can establishthose type of facilities in place," Conner said in Dubai.

Boeing officials were on planes to other states the dayafter the union vote. The proposed labor deal, which would haveextended the workers' current contract ending in 2016 for eightyears, included cuts to pensions and health care benefits, aslower rate of wage increases for new workers and a $10,000 cashbonus per member.

Brokered between Boeing executives and IAM union leaders inabout five weeks, the contract extension was voted down by a 2-1margin on Wednesday, with dozens of workers at the Seattle unionhall jeering their leadership as sellouts after the results wereannounced.

After the vote, several union members said they had lostconfidence in IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski, whohelped negotiate the deal, then called it "a piece of crap" at aunion meeting, and then wrote a letter to members calling it "anopportunity we will never see again to secure thousands ofgood-paying jobs."

In the days after the vote, two local IAM units passed votesof no confidence in Wroblewski and called for his resignation,said a union official with knowledge of the votes. Unionspokespeople did not immediately return calls requestingcommment.

But IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger has said he backedWroblewski, who has not spoken in public since the vote.

In an interview on Friday, Buffenbarger said Boeingexpressed concern in the contract talks about the smooth launchof the rival Airbus A350 jet, which he said was driving theurgency of getting the new 777 program started.

Boeing said on Sunday that the A350 was not a factor in itsspeed in getting the 777 development started and declined tocomment further.

Both Boeing and the union each have said it is up to theother to restart talks.

David Postman, spokesman for Washington state Governor JayInslee, said the resumption of talks "may be something that bothsides have to do at the same time."

Acknowledging that tensions within the union couldcomplicate those efforts, Postman said it was the governor'srole to help facilitate such dialog.

"Obviously, it's important to have somebody who can speak tous, who can effectively represent the union. There is a lot oftension there. It's evident," Postman said.

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