With the ink barely dry on bids from states seeking to win Boeing's next jetliner plant, the company is back at the table with a union about building the 777X in the Pacific Northwest.
Boeing and the International Association of Machinists are negotiating a deal that could secure assembly of the plane in Washington state with a possible new vote on a contract extension by Christmas, according to a report in The Seattle Times on Wednesday.
The union made a new contract offer to Boeing late Wednesday. A response is expected as early as today.
"We tried to craft a proposal that would meet the needs of our members, while also ensuring the long-term success of the Boeing Co. in Washington state," said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751.
The two sides met briefly Tuesday, including Ray Conner, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, and talks have progressed rapidly since then to see whether a deal the Machinists rejected in November can be changed to make it acceptable.
"Our membership wants to build this airplane, and we believe Boeing wants to do it here," Wroblewski said.
Aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia of The Teal Group said Washington has always been the ideal location for the final assembly.
"From an economic standpoint, Seattle was the overwhelmingly logical place to build the 777X," he said. "It was just a matter of sitting down and getting cooler heads to prevail."
Boeing's previous labor contract offer included concessions on pensions and medical benefits, and slower wage growth. The union rejected it by a 2-1 margin Nov. 13.
The revelation of fresh talks between the two sides came a day after the deadline for states, including South Carolina, to submit their bids to win the 777X jobs.
Washington, for instance, recently approved tax breaks for Boeing valued at $8.7 billion through 2040. The Evergreen State also passed legislation to improve aerospace training programs and its permitting process. Missouri lawmakers passed $1.7 billion in incentives. South Carolina, like many other states involved in the bidding, has not disclosed its offer.
Boeing's only other commercial aircraft assembly plant outside of Washington state is at Charleston International, where it builds the 787 Dreamliner.
"I would have thought Charleston was the only viable alternative for Boeing," Aboulafia said of 777X. "It quickly became a bit of a circus."
At least 10 other states were said to be in the running along with Washington and South Carolina. Wisconsin submitted a proposal even though Boeing didn't ask for one.The company has said it will make a decision on where to produce the new plane early next year. That could change if it can come to terms with the union before then.
Boeing currently leases 265 acres for its North Charleston operation, but on Friday it's expected to acquire through a state agency 267 acres across the street from the 787 campus. It hasn't disclosed its plans for the property.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
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