Talking, not posturing, will get Boeing deal done

While most American workers relax in the backyard or at their favorite fishing hole today, Boeing Co. Machinists will be spending their Labor Day on a picket line.

The union’s first strike of Boeing in a decade comes at a pivotal time for the airplane maker – a time when airlines are placing orders again and Boeing is beginning to pull ahead of its chief rival, Airbus. Union members may sense a degree of leverage they haven’t enjoyed in years.

Machinists also are venting some long-simmering anger. Ridiculous rhetoric about an “insulting” offer make that clear. They’re angry about jobs that have gone overseas, ethical lapses in the corporate suite, and the $22 million retirement package handed to new CEO James McNerney.

To a degree, such anger is understandable. Some executives didn’t hold to the same ethical standards required of their employees. And lavishing a huge retirement incentive onto a new chief executive just as negotiations with the rank and file were beginning may not have been the brightest move.

But the global marketplace has changed. To succeed against an aggressive rival like Airbus, Boeing must keep its costs in check and its productivity rates high. On the latter point, Machinists and other Boeing employees have made stellar gains. The company’s manufacturing model has changed, too, with suppliers providing more parts of airplanes as Boeing focuses on its core mission here: designing and assembling commercial jetliners. That’s a strategic reality that has sent many former Boeing jobs overseas. They’re not coming back.

If union members needed a strike to blow off steam, fine. Take a couple of days. Then, the company and the union must face the reality that both have a vested interest in each other’s long-term success. It will be time to go back to the bargaining table and hammer out a deal.

Both sides need to sit back down and work toward a compromise, for their own good and the good of the region. A prolonged strike could do real damage to an already vulnerable local economy. Longer term, it could throw a serious wrench into Boeing’s sales momentum, helping Airbus and costing more Machinists their jobs.

Collective bargaining works, but only when it’s taking place. Enough with the posturing – let’s get back to talking.

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