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January 2, 2014

Machinists chief once called pensions 'sacred'

SEATTLE (AP) — 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.

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. Boeing is vowing to produce the new 777X airplane in the region if the contract is approved.

Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told members in a 2010 video message that he couldn’t see the union allowing Boeing to put such a divide between generations of workers.

“Our union, the IAM, holds a pension plan as a sacred, sacred benefit,” Buffenbarger said. “We do not give it up without a fight. We do not sacrifice the unborn on the altar of corporate profits.”

Despite his message, union workers in St. Louis voted that year to move away from fixed pension plans.

In the Puget Sound, 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.

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.

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