Patience and the 777X deal

Boeing plays hardball, just ask pops.

In 1947, management demanded the end of plant-wide seniority and tried to nix female applicants for open positions if the job was deemed more biologically suited to a man (So much for Rosie the Riveter.) Members of the International Association of Machinists, many returning from service in World War II, elbowed for a 10-cent-per hour wage increase. Heaven forefend.

The subsequent 1948 Machinists strike was a fiasco, compounded by the divide-and-conquer maneuvering of the Teamsters’ Dave Beck.

Similar slogans resonate 65 years later as Boeing pushes a contract extension through 2024. To ensure 777X production in Washington, Machinists have been pressured to take one for the team, ratifying a contract freighted with concessions. Trouble is, the Machinists are the team.

Historical analogies fall away in a global market that revolves around cost structure. There’s Airbus, but in another decade Comac, the commercial aircraft corporation of China (all of five years old), could be the big kahuna.

“Our principal competitor wants to take more than 60 percent of the market and relegate Boeing to compete with new entrants to commercial aviation to fight over the remaining share,” Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Ray Conner wrote in an open letter.

The impulse is to call Boeing’s bluff since South Carolina doesn’t have Washington’s infrastructure or skilled workforce. But lawmakers weighing Boeing’s legislative wish list weren’t willing to play chicken with the state’s largest private employer.

“There are 49 governors that will be calling Boeing if in fact this bill doesn’t go through this week,” Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday.

It did go through on Saturday, Mostly. Boeing notwithstanding, Senate Republicans put the kibosh on a transportation package. Too bad, because it was in the broader public interest, not just Boeing’s.

The education package, shepherded by Everett Rep. Mike Sells, will boost community and technical college enrollment for aerospace training and benefit the aerospace sector and Snohomish County. It stands as the special session’s biggest public win.

The extension of tax breaks worth $8.7 billion over the next 16 years is tough to stomach. Thankfully, House Finance Committee Chair Reuven Carlyle embroidered the initial anything-you-want draft with enough you-can’t-bail safeguards to make it tolerable.

Boeing was anxious to wrap up its must-do package and secure a contract extension with the IAM before the Nov. 17 Dubai airshow. We don’t know what will happen with the latter. But with a decision as critical to the economic future of Boeing and the state of Washington, patience becomes a virtue.

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