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The right way to win Boeing jobs for Washington state

Post by Kim Bradford on June 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
June 10, 2011 4:19 pm
A 737 is worked on at the Boeing Co. assembly facility in Renton. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

Quick quiz: Which event this week has the most potential to create aerospace jobs in Washington?

A) The National Labor Relations Board hearing in Seattle on whether Boeing violated labor law when it decided to locate its second production line for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina.

B) Congressional Republicans’ counter proceeding, “Unionization Through Regulation: The NLRB’s Holding Pattern on Free Enterprise,” to be staged in North Charleston, home of said Dreamliner plant.

C) A Washington state trade delegation’s trip to Europe to woo aerospace suppliers who could play a pivotal role in determining where Boeing builds the successor to its 737 plane.

We’re going with “C.” While rehashing Boeing’s scuffles with its Machinists union may score political points, it is unlikely to do anything for this state’s economy.

Washingtonians were frustrated by Boeing’s decision nearly two years ago to begin assembling commercial jets somewhere else. But the state took its lumps and moved on the wiser.

The legacy of that decision is reflected in progress this year on one of Boeing’s chief complaints about this state’s business climate, the state-run workers’ compensation system.

Gov. Chris Gregoire also seems to have stepped up her game. Two years ago, she argued the state’s case for keeping Boeing’s business like a defense attorney convinced the jury had already voted to convict.

She’s sounding a lot less defeated these days. Last week, the governor announced the creation of “Project Pegasus,” an effort to keep Boeing’s 737 manufacturing jobs here.

Tayloe Washburn, the Seattle lawyer who co-chaired the successful effort to win the Air Force aerial refueling tanker contract for Boeing, will lead the 737 project as well. He’s headed to Europe with Gregoire this week to attend the Paris Air Show, where they hope to make the state more attractive to Boeing by convincing additional airplane parts makers to move here.

That’s the way to win business. Positioning the state to be competitive is far more likely to pay dividends than an attempt to compel a business to put up and stay put.

The NLRB complaint – which alleges that Boeing retaliated against its workers for striking when it choose to expand in South Carolina rather than Washington – appears to be little more than an attempt to assuage battered union interests.

The law recognizes the rights of companies to consider the costs of past strikes in future business decisions. It’s absurd to suggest that Boeing, having invested $2 billion in the South Carolina plant, should pack up and head back to Washington.

Washington shouldn’t want to become the Hotel California of industry, a place where companies with unionized workforces can check in but never leave. Businesses will keep away rather than face the prospect of being forced to stay.

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