As the Boeing Co. and its Machinists union battle in court, the company and its engineers union seem to be heading in a better direction.
This week, Ray Goforth, executive director of the engineers union, proposed a different way of reaching a contract with the aerospace giant: binding arbitr
Binding arbitration is often used by firefighters, police and mass transit workers “because the social cost of a strike or lockout for these groups is too great for the society to withstand,” Goforth said, in his comments to leaders of Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, or SPEEA.
Goforth gave a brief description of binding arbitration:
Binding arbitration is a process where an employer and a union agree to submit their dispute to an arbitrator who acts like a judge. The arbitrator listens to the arguments and data of both sides and then renders a decision that both sides have to live with. The decision is final and binding.
In binding arbitration, a strike by workers would not be an option. SPEEA only has gone on strike against Boeing in the Puget Sound region twice.
However, a labor strike by Boeing Machinists in 2008, and the company’s decision to place work in South Carolina the next year, has the company and Machinists in court.
The National Labor Relations Board has accused Boeing of illegally retaliating against the Machinists for labor strikes by picking South Carolina as home to a second 787 production line. The hearing on that federal complaint began Tuesday in Seattle and could drag on several years unless a settlement is reached.
Labor contracts for both SPEEA and the Machinists expire in 2012.
SPEEA’s Goforth said he has seen an improvement in the way his members are regarded by Boeing since the 2008 negotiations:
Boeing has embraced a return to engineering excellence. The company has admitted its outsourcing mistakes and is actively reversing many of them. … BCA President (Jim) Albaugh has brought a different management style….one that recognizes that labor unions can be used by management as an early warning system to identify problems.
SPEEA has a chance to show leadership in a time when the nation’s economy is still struggling and “heated debates” about unions are taking place on a national scale, Goforth said.
As for Boeing, the company is “encouraged” by SPEEA’s proposal, said Tim Healy, company spokesman.
Boeing leaders will need some time to review and talk about SPEEA’s idea. Healy said Boeing is in the process of setting up meetings with SPEEA leaders to discuss it.