The national union chief who has forced a vote on a pension-freezing Boeing contract proposal once called those retirement plans sacred and derided alternatives as risky.
In statements during the past few years, Tom Buffenbarger has advised union members about the importance of protecting defined-benefit pensions. He also warned that the union shouldn’t “fall prey to the trap that’s been set elsewhere by other companies and other industries where we don’t have pensions for new hires.”
Boeing workers, predominantly in the Puget Sound area, are set to vote Friday on a proposal that would freeze existing pensions and deny fixed pensions to new employees.
In response to an interview request by The Associated Press, Buffenbarger issued a written statement that Boeing’s latest proposal on pensions cannot be viewed in isolation.
The company has offered to build the 777X in the Puget Sound if the contract proposal is accepted and reaffirmed that work on the 737MAX would remain. Buffenbarger said those offers would mean tens of thousands of jobs for the area and decades of prosperity for union members and their families.
“The loss of this work would have a far greater impact on members’ retirement security than the changes Boeing has proposed to the current defined benefit plan,” Buffenbarger said in his statement. “Our primary responsibility as a union is to protect our members’ jobs and to give them a say in the wages, benefits and survival of those jobs.”
Since machinists rejected an initial contract offer in November, a total of 22 states have submitted bids to secure work on Boeing’s new 777X aircraft.
In the Puget Sound area, Buffenbarger has forced the upcoming contract vote despite the objection of local union leaders who believe the contract involves too many concessions, particularly because of its shift away from pensions at a time when Chicago-based Boeing is profitable.
Fixed pensions were once the most common type of retirement benefit, guaranteeing workers a specific monthly payment for the rest of their lives. Fewer than 9 percent of private sector employers still offer pensions.
Six political leaders urged machinists on Monday to accept the proposed contract — even though the officials have the same type of retirement package. One is already drawing a pension and five are expected to upon retirement.