Defense & National Security

Boeing jobs may follow Supersonics out of Washington State

Boeing jobs may follow Supersonics out of Washington State

Ever look up at the NBA highlights on TV and wonder: “Hey, who are the Oklahoma City Thunder and where did they come from?”

The answer is that the Thunder are what used to be the Seattle Supersonics, a middling franchise that finally wound up its tenure in Grunge City after the sour relationship between the millionaire players and the billionaire owner made it impossible to function.

The last Seattle owner, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, got so frustrated, he sold the team to a group of investors from Oklahoma City.

But, depending on how things go Friday, it might as well be so. After all, how can you have a team called the Supersonics after all the Boeing plants move somewhere else?

More than 30,000 Boeing workers, who belong to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, in Washington State and Oregon vote Jan. 3 on whether or not they keep their jobs or their company closes its plants in the area and moves on.

Boeing 777

Boeing 777

That is the choice that was given to them before they rejected Nov. 13 the Boeing contract by a two-to-one margin. The current contract runs out in 2016 and the company’s proposal would pick up from there until 2024

Two issues are at the heart of the battle over the contract. First, Boeing wants to convert its workers from the traditional pension to the 401K system that the rest of the country joined 20 years ago. Second, Boeing wants the union to agree to not to walk out or strike for the length of the pact.

It was almost a done deal, with Boeing sifting through invitations from more than 20 states the facilities devoted to the production of the 777-wide-body-airliner platforms. But, then grown-ups at the union’s national headquarters intervened.

In December, IAM’s international President R. Thomas Buffenbarger intervened and both convinced Boeing to rework its offer and it forced the IAM Local 751 to hold a new election.

Needless to say, it did not help relations between the local and headquarters when Buffenbarger announced the election Dec. 21, forcing the local to rally its workers over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

In its new offer, Boeing promised to increase each worker’s dental coverage by $500 in 2020 and 2024 and pay each machinists a $10,000 bonus upfront and another $5,000 in 2020. The company also agreed to drop its plan to change lengthen to 22 years to amount of time it takes for a machinist to reach the top of the pay scale—in the new proposal, the term remains six years.

Boeing workers opposed to the new contract

Boeing workers opposed to the new contract

Fighting the new agreement is the local’s president Tom Wrobleski, an old-school labor boss, who is fighting both the company and the national union’s meddling.

“Despite objections from District 751 leadership, the International has insisted on a vote on January 3rd to ensure you spend your holidays studying and debating a concessionary proposal that is largely unchanged from the one you rejected by a 2-to-1 margin,” said a statement Wrobleski posted on the local’s website.

Wrobleski appoints and removes shop stewards, a position that allows his people to plus up their seniority and pay, in addition to the power to run their corner of the world.

The local boss and his henchmen are putting out the line that despite the threats, Boeing will not move the jobs because no state has come up with a goody bag as generous as the $8 billion the State of Washington kicks in.

This is classic whistling past the industrial graveyard. There is actually every chance in the world Boeing would leave for a right-to-work state, such as South Carolina, where it now employs 7,000 workers and where it moved its 787-Dreamliner platform. The company has also announced plans to invest another $1 billion and hire another 2,000 workers, including new 400 research engineers, and it entered a long-term lease for an additional 470 square acres.

Another right-to-work state to consider is Kansas. Kansas was jilted and jolted, when after 10 years of its congressional delegation successfully fighting for the Air Force super tanker program for Boeing’s Wichita facility—Boeing closed Wichita and moved the super tanker program, and its 7,500 jobs, to other plants in other states in Texas, Washington State and Oklahoma–hmmm, Oklahoma?

BOEING97

The Wichita plant is now all but shuttered, one thinks the Kansas might be able to come up with decent package of incentives, considering Boeing’s more than 60-year history in the state.

Maybe Wrobleski can keep his anxiety in check because if those jobs do move away, he and the other local union leaders have first dibs on the new jobs, wherever they end up.

Hey, that’s almost the same deal the Supersonics players had when they switched jerseys in 2008.

Of course, the OKC Thunder right now are the best team in the NBA and just like those Boeing jobs, having left Washington State, they are never coming back.

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