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Boeing machinists OK contract tied to production of 777X

SEATTLE--Boeing machinists narrowly approved a contract Friday that would concede some pension and health care benefits in order to secure assembly of the company's new 777X airplane for the Puget Sound region, solidifying the aerospace giant's presence in the Seattle area for many years to come.

The offer fractured the union and drew unusual pleas from politicians who said the deal was necessary to support the area's economic future. Boeing has been exploring the prospect of building the 777X elsewhere, a move that could trigger a steady exodus of aerospace jobs from the place where Boeing was founded.

“Tonight, Washington state secured its future as the aerospace capital of the world,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said late Friday night.

Local union officials, meanwhile, urged their 30,000 members to oppose the deal, arguing that the proposal surrenders too much at a time of company profitability. They had opposed taking a vote at all but were overruled by national leaders in the Machinists union.

Tina Shrader, a Boeing worker for eight years, said she was voting no.

“I don't want to mess with my pension. I'm here for my paycheck and for my pension,” Shrader said.

Bob Dennis, an inspector at Boeing for six years, said he was voting for the contract because it represented the best chance to keep the 777X jobs in Washington state.

“I don't think Boeing had to come back to the table. We forced them that way. But at the same time, I think this is our last opportunity to keep those jobs in the state,” he said.

Washington state has always been the most natural place for Boeing Co. to build the 777X, since most of the company's production is still done in the Puget Sound area. Chicago-based Boeing offered to keep the 777X in the region but sought two big deals: An extension of tax breaks all the way to 2040 and a new contract with the Machinists union that would transition workers away from traditional pensions.

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Jim Bearden, administrative assistant for District 751 of the Boeing machinists union, tells reporters that workers voted to accept Boeing's latest offer to keep the assembly of the Boeing 777X airplane in Seattle, Washington state, Friday, Jan. 3. Members of the district passed the contract by a narrow majority of 51 percent.

(AP)

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