Barbara Shelly

Boeing always wins

Updated: 2014-01-08T00:06:37Z

By Barbara Shelly

The Kansas City Star

No surprise, Boeing won’t be moving production of its 777X airliner to Missouri.

Or Kansas.

Or any of the 22 states that sprung into action when the aircraft giant said it might move thousands of jobs out of Washington state because of a conflict with its machinist union.

The move was always a long shot. The Seattle area has the nation’s largest, best-trained aviation workforce and a deep-water port to transport large parts. Most analysts correctly saw the shopping expedition as a maneuver to bring the scrappy union to heel.

That much Boeing accomplished, though the vote Friday was close. Just 51 percent of union members voted in favor of a new contract.

The union’s big concession was an end to the traditional pension. Like so many other employers, Boeing will move to a new 401K plan. Though the company is offering hefty matches, the change means a less secure retirement for workers. They will continue to be well-paid, however, with a typical base pay or about $70,000 a year, and the chance to hit the six-figure mark with overtime.

Looking at the situation from a distance, the union’s fight looks like an exercise in futility. I get the argument of union officials that Boeing is a phenomenally profitable company and can certainly guarantee workers a worry-free retirement.

On the other hand, pension systems that guarantee retirees payments for life are going the way of free unchecked baggage. The union vote can be read as a nod to reality. The universal fight over traditional pensions in America is over and 401K plans have won. It really didn’t make sense to risk great-paying jobs to hold out for a lost cause.

In Missouri, the legislature rallied for a surprisingly efficient special session to make Boeing an offer. Kansas made an offer, too, in a quieter way.

Little was lost in those efforts, although in Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and others showed how willing they are to trade in some sacred cows, like historic and low-income tax credits, to gain the golden beast.

But as Boeing gets ready to ramp up production on the West Coast, the message to other states can only be read one way. They were played.

It has happened before, and it will happen again. But states will always dance to the puppet master’s tune.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

Deal Saver Subscribe today!

Comments

The Kansas City Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Kansas City Star uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here