Boeing, Machinists union both see the light

The deal between the Machinists union and the Boeing Co. that could result in a new contract several months early is exciting news.

For one thing, it gives me hope at a time when good economic news has been in unusually short supply.

I know it sounds crazy, but it’s got me thinking that hell won’t have to freeze over before Congress actually does its job and works together to help the American people.

Going from Boeing and the Machinists union to Congress is a bit of a stretch, but not a huge one.

Like Republicans and Democrats, the company and the union have been locked in a high-stakes battle the past several years.

The Machinists went on strike before settling the last two contracts, and Boeing responded by sending more jet assembly work overseas and building a new 787 plant in a right-to-work state, South Carolina. The union responded by saying the company broke labor laws by creating the North Charleston plant. And the company responded by threatening to move the latest version of the 737 — the MAX — outside the Puget Sound area, as well.

For the union, the fight was about continued jobs for members and keeping benefits it won in previous contracts.

For the company, it was about being able to ensure customers they’d get their jets on time and about lowering production costs to remain competitive.

The new contract, if approved by the union membership, should provide both sides with most of what they want.

Boeing gets four years of labor peace, something that’s already pushed the stock price up substantially and will be a selling point to airlines. The company would also get rid of a contentious fight between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board, which filed the complaint on the union’s behalf about the 787 plant in South Carolina. Boeing also will lower some health-care costs because union members would pay a bigger share.

Puget Sound Machinists should get about 10 years’ of work on the 737MAX, a $5,000 cash bonus, a small pay raise and a lot of goodwill.

The goodwill is hard to put a value on, but I think showing a willingness to work together is huge.

Union members earned some points when some of the company’s partners in Italy and elsewhere couldn’t meet production deadlines on the 787. Puget Sound workers showed their value when they had to redo work done poorly elsewhere.

Boeing officials haven’t changed their minds that outsourcing some of the new jet is important, but they’ve at least hinted that they tried to do too much of it. The fact that the 787 was three years late would seem to be proof that was indeed the case.

Machinists have a chance to prove their worth once again on the 737MAX. Continuing to prove their skills, along with showing that they can work with the company to succeed, is a good approach.

The next jet Boeing will be looking to upgrade is the 777, assembled in Everett.

As a new state study suggests, showing that Puget Sound workers have a high level of skills and that the state can provide more aerospace training and education might be what it takes to earn work on the new 777, as well.

Now, if we can just show Congress how to work together, we might be getting somewhere.

Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459; benbow@heraldnet.com.

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