Exclusive - Union leader: Boeing eyes fast 777X output due to fears of Airbus jet

Fri Nov 15, 2013 6:08pm EST
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By Alwyn Scott

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Boeing wants to speed up production of its newest jetliner because of the success of a rival plane from Airbus and sought to nail down a Seattle labor deal to help advance that aim, the machinists union chief said in an exclusive Reuters interview on Friday.

The fears prompted confidential meetings between Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote) officials and the union, first reported by Reuters, that sought to clinch an eight-year contract extension with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers in exchange for building the 777X jet in Washington state, IAM President R. Thomas Buffenbarger told Reuters.

Buffenbarger's remarks are the union's first public statements on the talks, and its first comments on prospects for future negotiations since its members rejected the extension by a 2-1 margin on Wednesday.

In a lengthy interview, the union leader defended the decision to put Boeing's offer to a vote and voiced concern that aerospace work in Washington state will dwindle sharply if the 777X is built elsewhere.

By rejecting the contract, the machinists opened the door for Boeing to consider building the jet outside the state, and prompted numerous states to work on proposals.

Now 31,000 machinists and thousands of other Boeing employees face potential job loss because the 777X is the only jet Boeing is likely to launch for the next 15 years.

"We're in a precarious situation," Buffenbarger said.

But Buffenbarger said the union doesn't plan to make a counter offer. He also praised local IAM President Tom Wroblewski for putting the proposal to a vote because it showed what Boeing needs to offer to extend the contract and avoid the risk of strike when the current labor deal ends in 2016.   Continued...

The Boeing logo is seen on a Boeing 787 Dreamliner airplane in Long Beach, California March 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson