SEATTLE - Multiple sources have told KING 5 News that talks between the Machinists Union and Boeing to land 777X production in Washington state are serious and characterized by one source close to the talks as, "...at their finish."
The talks involve Machinists Dist 751 president Tom Wroblewski, Machinists International president Tom Buffenbarger, and Boeing Commercial Airplane's chief Ray Conner who started his long Boeing career on the shop floor.
The proposal includes extending the Machinists contract til the mid 2020s, years after Boeing 777X deliveries are underway. That the deal would include bonuses and incentives, but little has leaked out about the level of pay increases, retirement, medical care and other key issues.
While speculation has surrounded the 777X for years now, the company has yet to officially launch the plane. The launch is expected to come in two weeks at the Dubai Air Show with a large order from Emirates Airlines, which is the largest operator of current 777 models.
Lufthansa German Airlines has also committed to buy the jet, which will be built with light weight composite wings along the lines of the 787 Dreamliner, but with an aluminum fuselage based on the current model, but longer. But the 777X will carry more passengers, the largest models in excess of 400.
While Boeing's announcement is considered very close, the company has stated publicly before that a site decision on where to build the jet wouldn't be made until months later.
Late this afternoon Boeing confirmed the talks are taking place, but has refused comment beyond that. And International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers spokeswoman Connie Kelliher will only say the union and the company have had "ongoing conversations" on the 777X after it was proposed, and that those "conversations intensified" as 777X program has progressed.
"We are asking our members to keep proving to Boeing management that the best aerospace workers in the world are right here in Puget Sound," said Kelliher.
Secret talks between Boeing and its largest union are not unprecedented. In 2011, the union and the company suddenly announced a deal to keep production of the 737-MAX at its Renton, Wash., plant after Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said the company would open to competition from other states. That deal extended the current contract another four years a came a full year before the then current contract was set to expire. Union members overwhelmingly approved it, and the 737's current ramp up to a record 42 airplanes per month and the move to incorporating the MAX variant have progressed smoothly. Last week, Boeing announced it would push production higher to 47 airplanes per month.
But the union talks are only part of the equation for Boeing. In Olympia, Governor Jay Inslee and a joint committee of legislators continue to work on an incentive package that would continue tax breaks for the aerospace industry contingent on landing the 777X, with more state investment in worker training, and promise to get a transportation package done.