Mary Sanchez

Missouri’s Boeing bid will play a part in union fight

Updated: 2013-12-09T05:52:53Z

By MARY SANCHEZ

The Kansas City Star

Just to be clear: The 777X jetliner bid isn’t really about Missouri.

We’re just leverage for Boeing Co. to go after the jugular of a labor union.

Missouri is just one of many states giddy with the thought of being considered for building all or parts of the 777X. Our legislature whipped up a package of incentives worth up to $1.7 billion to bid for the contract.

But the decision isn’t only contingent on anything Missouri politicians can accomplish, or Missouri labor might agree to produce. This is a labor squabble. Boeing is looking to cut costs because of competition from Airbus. And it’s looking to scrap traditional pensions for its workforce to get it.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is one of the largest labor unions and has long been vital to the production of Boeing aircraft, especially in Washington state.

The union is seeing an uprising from its rank and file over not only negotiations with Boeing about the jetliner contract, but through a related split in loyalty from longtime management.

Tensions rose so high last month in Washington there were local votes of no confidence in international leadership. Union members almost didn’t even hold the vote where they said “no” to a contract offer with Boeing over the 777X. Rank and file members were that disgusted. And why, you might ask?

Well, some of the very things that unions have long been adept at protecting for their workers — pensions for retirement and wage scales for new workers — were being killed off by IAM leadership to appease Boeing enough to keep the contract in Puget Sound. Boeing’s used this play before, sending a final assembly line to South Carolina when union contract talks broke down.

If that happens again, it will add to Seattle area disgruntlement with the international. Another factor is that members of some of the union’s locals argue that challengers running against incumbents or their hand-picked allies never seem to get enough endorsements to get on the ballot.

The latest is the U.S. Department of Labor found that the IAM violated federal labor law in an election earlier this year. Now, the union will have the Department of Labor looking over its shoulders during an election early next year.

You can bet Boeing executives will be watching closely, too.

As much as they are gauging what Missouri and other states are willing to pony up for the 777X contract.

To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to msanchez@kcstar.com.

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