No column we’ve written has gotten more attention outside the blogosphere than the one in which we concluded that if Washington State is to truly become competitive with the South, it needs to become a Right-to-Work state.
Gov. Jay Inslee responded indirectly to the suggestion, via The Puget Sound Business Journal (it ain’t gonna happen). A leader of the engineer’s union for Boeing, Stan Sorscher of SPEEA, wrote an Op-Ed column in which he linked our column and in the next sentence said it was “creepy.” We exchanged emails with Sorscher, and he said he didn’t mean we are creepy—just the idea. The president of IAM 751, the local for Boeing, Tom Wroblewski, niftily called the idea Right-to-Worse. Several labor websites and newsletters reprinted the Sorscher and Wroblewski columns.
We occupy an interesting position in our role as an observer and pontificator in aerospace, and in Washington State, where we live. We’re not beholden to any company or special interest here, nor are we any longer on the Board of Directors of any trade group (thus we now can say what we really think). Our only interest is the growth of the aerospace sector here. We consulted to the state Department of Commerce for 18 months, until budget cuts in 2011, recommending strategies and policies. “Beyond Boeing” and seeking a suppliers fair with Airbus for our state’s aerospace businesses were among the recommendations we made.
We watched as the SPEEA and IAM 751 members essentially bailed out Boeing (“saved Boeing’s ass” is how we put it to the Puget Sound Business Journal) during the 787 and 747-8 design and production debacles. We watched while IAM 751 struck Boeing for 58 days in 2008 and SPEEA worked to defeat Boeing’s contract offer this year.
We’ve watched as Boeing placed 787 line 2 in South Carolina (our view is that this was retaliation for the 2008 IAM strike, which Boeing steadfastly denies—and which we don’t believe for an instant). We’ve watched as Boeing cut jobs in Information Technology and with engineers, outsourcing these to non-union states. We firmly believe Boeing Chicago is waging war on the unions, with the weaker SPEEA union firmly in its sights first.
In this totality and context, we came to the conclusion that Washington State needs to make some major revisions in its approach to labor—if it wants to be competitive with non-union states. Boeing has made it abundantly clear it will move jobs from unionized Washington State—the fourth-most unionized state in the nation, IAM 751 boasted in advance of its 2008 strike.
Unions would rather have no jobs than non-union jobs. Our basic view is that nobody should be forced to join any group in order to have a job. If a work force in any company votes to organize, fine. But anyone who wants to work should be free to work. Here in the Seattle area, unions are working against two projects valued at close to $1bn because they fear non-union jobs will be attached to the businesses or construction. We think this is just nuts. This is another reason Washington State needs to become Right-to-Work. These economic-drivers will create direct and indirect jobs (some of which will almost certainly be union, since at the least garbage collectors are unionized). To actively lobby against these projects and deny jobs to those who want them and positive economic impact for the Seattle area is simply an eye-rolling moment.
Aerospace jobs are moving out of the state because Boeing is moving them to non-union areas. This State lost attracting companies in the past because the State is the fourth most unionized state in the nation.
The IAM’s Tom Wroblewski pointed to Idaho as having lower wages because it’s non-union. We think Idaho has lower wages because…it’s Idaho. There isn’t a lot there to recommend it, really, despite some truly attractive areas. Among the detriments: it’s long been a pocket for neo-Nazis and skin-heads. (We are braced for the hate mail on this one.) And unionization isn’t a guarantee the state’s education system is going to be funded as it should be, as Wroblewski infers. Washington, the fourth most unionized state in the nation, has been underfunding education for decades. Former Boeing CEO Frank Shrontz was complaining about this in his day, in the early 1990s. Only this year, after the State Supreme Court, ordered the Legislature to more properly fund education did it step up and do so.
We acknowledge the sterling work of SPEEA and IAM 751 members—as we said, they saved Boeing’s ass—but Washington has to compete with the Southern States. Being the fourth most unionized state in the nation isn’t the way to do it.