With an historic opportunity to engage in a radical shift of labor relations with The Boeing Co., the International Association of Machinists may well make an historical decision that will “blow it.”
As anyone in aviation who is interested in commercial aviation knows, from the plethora of news reporting in just the last 24 hours, the IAM national union and Boeing have been engaged in secret talks (yes, they have been secret, despite a denial to the contrary) to attempt to achieve an unprecedented 10-year contract with a no-strike clause. As Dominic Gates of The Seattle Times reported yesterday, these have deadlocked.
An ominous report comes from Charleston’s Post and Courier in which local elected officials are already under a confidentiality agreement from an unidentified major aerospace company.
The Seattle Times, by reporter Gates again, today goes into detail about why Charleston could win Line 2. Glenn Farley, the well-connected aviation reporter for KING 5 TV (NBC-Seattle), has this interesting report that provides additional detail over what the two sides have been talking about.
The IAM Puget Sound local 751 hasn’t been more than peripherally involved in the talks, which have been conducted between the company and the IAM National leadership headquartered in Washington (DC).
On the quarterly earnings call Wednesday, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said that talks between the IAM National and the company had been constructive and that a decision where Line 2 would be placed would be made within a few weeks. He did not mention that no further talks were scheduled nor that they were deadlocked, probably not wanting to inflame the situation, as Gates would report less than 24 hours later.
Boeing’s Board of Directors meet next week. A decision could come as early as then. Permits filed by Boeing to begin clearing land in Charleston have a November 2 start date.
The stories by Gates and Farley indicate where some critical agreements have been reached and where there remain some stumbling blocks. Gates’ story Thursday reported that the IAM National wants a guarantee that Boeing will not only place Line 2 in Everett, where Line 1 is, but also to guarantee that the replacement airplane for the 737 will be in Puget Sound (the Seattle area). Considering that a decision on doing a replacement airplane probably won’t be made until 2013 to 2015, during which time any number of things entirely unrelated to labor could happen to influence this decision, Boeing isn’t willing to provide this guarantee (and properly so, in our opinion, however much we’d like to see the plane stay here). There are other demands by the IAM that have not been publicly detailed that are also stumbling blocks. The 737 guarantee and these other demands may well kill Line 2 for Puget Sound.
The IAM isn’t in a position of strength here. It is in a position to thoroughly disrupt Boeing’s production in retaliation over any decision to place Line 2 in Charleston, as we outlined yesterday. Boeing has said repeatedly that it plans to bring back “in-house” more engineering and production responsibility for the 787-9 as a result of lessons learned on the 787-8. The questions are “how much” engineering and production and where “in-house” is, Puget Sound or Charleston.
IAM 751 has a graphic illustration over the “disappearing airplane,” representing the jobs lost to the IAM over the decades as Boeing has outsourced more and more of its airplane production to non-IAM shops, whether in the USA or outside the US borders. The IAM National has a critical decision to make, and it has very, very little time in which to make it. Being hard-ass will cost IAM 751 specifically and the IAM generally more jobs. Being reasonable will save IAM jobs and create new ones.
Unfortunately, the long-term history of the IAM is that leadership seems more concerned about “victories” for the cause than it does about jobs on the ground. We fear the IAM is going to blow this historic opportunity.
We’re going to watch how things develop over the weekend and in all likelihood will revisit this on Monday, the start of a critical week for Boeing, the IAM, Puget Sound, Charleston and American aerospace.