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Boeing’s got the aces in match with Machinists

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Oct. 27, 2009 at 7:59 pm |
October 27, 2009 6:04 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

No union likes having its back against the wall, but that seems to be where the Machinists union stands right now on the question of keeping 787 Dreamliner production in Washington.

Boeing has been ostentatiously talking to South Carolina about building a second 787 factory line in Charleston – in a nonunion plant – instead of Everett, where the plane is now being assembled. South Carolina lawmakers are offering the aerospace company a sweet package of incentives. Boeing’s Chicago-based corporate leaders are within days of deciding between Everett and Charleston.

Meanwhile, company and union leaders have been quietly discussing Boeing’s central condition for sticking with Everett: a no-strike guarantee good for 10 years. The Seattle Times reported Tuesday that those talks aren’t making much progress.
Boeing is reportedly pushing for what in most cases would seem a reasonable alternative: binding arbitration.

Like any union, though, the Machinists are loath to give up their nuclear weapon. They’ve reportedly also thrown another – far bigger – issue into the mix, pushing for a promise that the successors to the 737 and 777 will also be built in this state.
The union appears to be putting more chips on the table than its cards warrant. Keeping 787 production here seems a large enough goal without throwing the 737 and 777 replacements into the deal.

Nor is binding arbitration a fate worse than death. It’s designed to guarantee workers wages and benefits consistent with trends elsewhere in their industry, and it often yields very impressive contract gains for unions.

The nasty reality underlying this situation is Boeing’s position.

These days, it appears to view its Northwest birthplace with no more sympathy than it might Malaysia or Mongolia. And its long history of hostilities with the Machinists seems quite sufficient to entice it to Charleston – where aerospace workers recently dissolved their own union as an added enticement.

It’s possible the company has already decided on South Carolina and intends to blame the decision on the Machinists’ stance. We hope not.

The Machinists don’t appear to be holding any aces in these talks. The one thing they can credibly threaten is to get really, really mad the next time their contract expires. But the prospect of facing yet more punishing strikes won’t make Boeing any more eager to build future generations of jets in Washington.

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