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Build the 777X here: A win-win for Boeing, Washington state

johnson-jeff-13By JEFF JOHNSON

(Dec. 10, 2013) — Labor wants our engineers and machinists to design and build the 777x and the new composite wing here at home in Washington state. We believe that this is in the best interest of the company, their customers, their shareholders, their workforce, and our state.

Three weeks ago, Boeing handed Machinists a long-term, complex, take-it-or-leave-it contract proposal that would replace their existing contract that doesn’t expire for three more years. Machinists’ were given one week to absorb and vote on a proposal that would significantly reduce their share of the prosperity that they produce for the company. It shouldn’t surprise us that they voted against the proposal given these circumstances.

Machinists District 751 members know at a gut level what aerospace analysts have been saying for months: Washington state is the best place in the world to build the 777x and the composite wing given the proven expertise of our workforce. We have the most experience of any other state in building twin aisle aircraft, including two decades of experience building the 777.

There are other reasons to build the 777X in Washington. Productivity, for example. We rank top among the aerospace states in output per worker.

Washington also has the greatest diversification of aerospace related firms in the country and 90% of these firms are within 60 miles of a Boeing facility. We have some of the lowest energy costs in the country, a decent transportation infrastructure — which will get even better once the Washington State Legislature passes the next transportation package — and we have impressively strong local, state, and federal representation on behalf of the aerospace industry. The Legislature just passed the largest state tax incentive package in the history of our country, made major STEM investments in aerospace workforce training programs, and significantly streamlined the building permitting process for the aerospace industry.

It is this combination of factors that will allow the company to bring the 777x to market on time and profitably. This is the message we took from the comments made by the CEOs of Emirate Airlines and Qatar Airways at the recent Dubai air show — don’t repeat the production mistakes of the 787, build the plane in one place, the place where you have the most experience.

How do we go forward? While I can’t speak for the Machinists, I bet if the company was willing to sit down and negotiate a fair and equitable long-term extension of the existing contract an agreement could be reached.

Given the inter-generational workforce at Boeing — grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, sons, daughters, nephews and nieces — it should come as no surprise that replacing the defined-benefit pension program is strongly opposed. Machinists have sacrificed wage increases over the decades in exchange for a guaranteed secure retirement income. This defines the middle class. We don’t get rich but we work hard to live comfortably throughout our work lives and into our retirement years. It would be unthinkable for parents to deprive their children working as Machinists at Boeing for an opportunity to reach this level of retirement security.

The Machinists stood up for community standards and the community stands behind the Machinists. All of us take pride in the fact that Boeing planes are the best designed and best built planes in the world.

At a community rally in downtown Seattle hundreds of community and labor leaders came out in the rain to support the Machinists. The most commonly voiced refrain at that rally was “Build it here — Build the 777x here.” This is the type of product loyalty and commitment to a workforce and a company that takes generations to achieve.  That’s something you just can’t buy.

Build it here and we all will prosper.

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 the current edition of the Puget Sound Business Journal.

ALSO at The Stand — Boeing union coalition: We are ‘clear choice’ for 777X (Nov. 25, 2013)

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