By JEFF JOHNSON
(Nov. 18, 2013) — We could not be prouder of the Machinists at District Lodge 751. By turning down Boeing’s lopsided proposal, the Machinists stood up to defend the middle class and they stood up to defend the standard of living in our communities.
Truth be told, as the middle class is under attack, facing staggering income and wealth inequality while Boeing posted historically high quarterly revenue and profit figures. It has been estimated that the value of the pension for Boeing’s chief executive is worth more than $250,000 per month.
Machinists were presented with a unilateral proposal that would have frozen the pension system that they had bargained for over the last several decades — it would have also ended the pension system for new hires. It would have been replaced with a long-term savings plan that shifts all the risk to the workers.
The proposal would have increased worker health-care costs by more than 30 percent when the contract ended in 2024. And it would have required at least 16 years for a newly hired Machinist to move from the bottom of the pay scale to the top.
It was no surprise to us that the proposal was overwhelmingly rejected. While Boeing is no longer a family company, the workforce has strong family traditions. While at a Machinist function days before the vote, I spoke with Machinist families that had three generations of workers employed by Boeing.
It would have been unthinkable for grandparents or parents to sell out younger workers and future workers, many of whom are sons and daughters or nieces and nephews, and prevent them from earning a secure retirement future.
No one should interpret this vote as an indication that Machinists don’t want Boeing to expand in Washington state by manufacturing the 777X and the new composite wing here at home. These Machinists are proud, highly skilled, dedicated workers who built Boeing’s reputation, profitability and market share. They simply want a fair shake for the work that they do.
The middle class in this country was built by workers’ ability to share in the prosperity they created for their employers. This is a simple concept that has been the engine of economic growth for our country for decades. A strong middle class brings the standard of living up for all workers, grows strong businesses and a strong economy.
We all want Boeing to expand in Washington state. Our state Legislature just passed two pieces of legislation that together provide a package of tax incentives valued at $8.7 billion to Boeing and to companies in the aerospace-supply sector. The bills also provide significant public tax-dollar investments in workforce training and a streamlined permitting process.
The rational business case for building the 777X and the composite wing is to build it here in Washington state. We have decades of experience building the 777 plane and we also have, according to aerospace analysts, the highest productivity per worker, the best workforce development system and the best transportation infrastructure of any of the other states in which Boeing has a footprint.
It is time for everyone to take a deep breath, recognize that the long-term stability and profitability of Boeing and the success of the 777X is tied to expanding in Washington state.
Then, let the company and the Machinist union sit down together and plan out how they continue to build the best planes in the world while sharing the prosperity that the workers create.
It’s a simple concept — one that is good for the company, the Machinists, our communities and our state.
Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members. This column also appears in today’s edition of The Seattle Times.