Political leaders with secure pensions push Boeing machinists to freeze retirement benefit

SEATTLE - Six political leaders have urged machinists in the Puget Sound to accept a proposed contract from Boeing that moves them away from a fixed-payment pension plan — even though the officials have the same type of retirement package.

On Monday, government and other officials gathered in Everett, Wash., to talk about the importance of machinists accepting a new contract this week. Six called on union members to accept the deal, including one who is already drawing pension payments and five others who are expected to do so upon retirement.

Snohomish County executive John Lovick currently earns about $150,000 a year and is separately drawing more than $60,000 in pension payments from his career in the Washington State Patrol, according to records obtained by The Associated Press under public records law.

Lovick said he did not have the expertise to assess the differences between retirement plans and didn't know how much machinists would have to surrender under the plan.

He said his push for a deal centred on job security because Boeing is vowing to produce the new 777X airplane in the region if the contract is approved.

"We want those good jobs to stay in this region," Lovick said.

Local union leaders are recommending a no vote on the contract because they feel it has too many concessions. A major sticking point has been Boeing's insistence that workers move from a traditional fixed pension plan to a defined-contribution retirement savings plan.

National leaders of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers scheduled a vote on Friday on the proposed contract, despite the objections of local union officials. Since machinists rejected an initial contract offer in November, a total of 22 states have submitted bids to secure the work on the 777X.

In a message to members, local union representatives touted the benefits of a fixed pension plan.

"It is the best retirement security you can have," they wrote.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke was among those pushing machinists to accept the contract, arguing that workers can do better with a retirement savings plan that gives machinists greater control over their money.

Cooke is an active member in the Public Employees' Retirement System, a state pension plan.

Fixed pensions were once the most common type of retirement benefit, guaranteeing workers a specific monthly payment for the rest of their lives, regardless of the volatility of the stock market.

Fewer than 9 per cent of private sector employers still offer such pensions, while 88 per cent of employers opt instead to sponsor 401(k) retirement plans. Fixed pensions remain common in government jobs, which is why Cooke and others who supported the proposed contract are still accruing benefits.

Political leaders have been pushing for a deal as a way to ensure a healthy aerospace industry for years to come.

Boeing is years away from delivering the first 777X aircraft to customers. The company is deciding where that production will take place, and the production facility would bring thousands of well-paying jobs with it.

Boeing has said the 777X is expected to carry as many as 400 passengers and be more fuel efficient than the current 777. At the recent Dubai Airshow, the company received orders for 225 of the planes.


Follow AP Writer Mike Baker on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MikeBakerAP