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Boeing machinists union votes on contract to build 777X jetliner

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EVERETT, Wash. -- The union hall closest to Boeing Co.'s biggest manufacturing operation swarmed with activity Friday afternoon, as hundreds of machinist union members queued up to vote on the aerospace giant's latest contract.

The International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, which represents more than 31,000 Boeing workers in Washington state, are voting Friday on a contract that would ensure that construction on the 777X airliner would stay in the region.

FULL COVERAGE: Building Boeing's 777X jetliner

The new aircraft would be the latest version of the twin-aisle 777, one of Boeing's bestselling models. Versions of the plane have been built in Washington since the early 1990s.

The streets leading to the union hall were choked with cars, just one indication of the election's high stakes to the union, its members and the Puget Sound region.

The line of would-be voters snaked through the union hall parking lot in the chilly afternoon as clouds massed overhead. Volunteers in orange vests tried valiantly to direct foot and vehicle traffic. Police cars with swirling lights stood by, along with at least one television satellite truck.

And Captain America.

James White, a 48-year-old inspector on the 777 program, on this day was decked out in full red-white-and-blue superhero regalia.

"He's the first Avenger, champion for justice," White said from behind his blue mask. "That's why I wore this, to represent that I think this contract is unjust in the way the machinists are being treated by the Boeing Co."

White's shield was imprinted with "Just Say No," reflecting his own vote on what Boeing is calling its "last, best offer."

Friday's vote represents the second time in two months that IAM District 751 members will vote on a proposal by Boeing, the biggest private employer in the state, which has about 82,500 employees and is a crucial part of the regional economy.

Boeing's proposed eight-year contract, which would start in 2016, would cut some pension and healthcare benefits. The first contract was voted down by a 2-to-1 margin. The second contract has a few new sweeteners.

Although Friday’s voting followed an angry anti-contract rally a day earlier, and the Everett voting site was decked out with signs urging union members to vote no, the machinists were not entirely of one mind.

But those who had voted yes were loath to broadcast that fact.

A union member who would give only his first name, David -- "because I don't want people hating on me" -- had donned an orange vest to help direct traffic.

As he waved a long line of cars into a crowded nearby parking lot, David said he had cast a "yes" vote because his loyalties lie with the region and its economic health.

"It's more of statesmanship than the union," he said. "I'm more for the region. I believe in the union workers, but at the same time I believe in keeping the area healthy." 

Since the first vote, Boeing has opened a nationwide sweepstakes, asking other states to submit incentive-laden proposals if a deal with the union doesn't come through. The company said it received proposals from 22 states, including California. Many submitted multiple sites. 

"I heard a lot of people saying no, and just today, I heard a lot of people changing their minds," David said. "Boeing isn't kidding about moving their jobs."

Either way, said Neal Jacobson, an inspector on the 787 in Everett, "we're gonna take it in the tail bone."

Jacobson, 61, comes from a three-generation Boeing family. His father, who has since died, retired from Boeing in 1989. His brother works for Boeing. His son works for Boeing.

Wearing an orange vest and monitoring the long line of patient voters, Jacobson said he'd voted around 6 a.m. When asked how he cast his ballot, he looked briefly stricken. Then he insisted that his decision not be made public before the polls closed at 6 p.m.

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