Jan. 05--While Boeing executives chose to remain silent the day after the Machinists' contract vote secured the work of building the 777X jet for Washington state, top officials at the Machinists national headquarters and in Gov. Jay Inslee's office were almost giddy.
"It's going to be sunny in Seattle for another 40 or 50 years," gushed Rich Michalski, who represented the International Association of Machinists (IAM) national headquarters in the 777X negotiations. "Boeing is going to be here forever now."
And Alex Pietsch, director of Inslee's aerospace office, savored his "excitement for the future."
"It's a really big deal," Pietsch said.
Yet for some observers, the heady enthusiasm after Friday's narrow 51 percent vote was diluted by the sobering prospect of dwindling middle-class wages and benefits, and the near certainty that pressure for future concessions to Boeing will continue.
Leon Grunberg, co-author of "Turbulence," a book that surveyed the attitudes of Boeing union members toward the company, said the 777X contract deal is unusual even in an era of weakening organized labor.
He said unions in North America have repeatedly been forced to make major concessions on wages and benefits, though usually when a company is in crisis and facing bankruptcy or closure.
In this case, the Machinists were pressed to give up their pensions though Boeing is soaring financially.
"It's unusual for a company that's doing so well to push so hard," said Grunberg. "If a local as strong as the Machinists with a company as successful as Boeing has to agree to give up these things they've won, the trend (of a diminished labor movement) will definitely continue."
Local aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton, of Leeham.net, said that though the 777X deal puts this state in a better position to win the work of building future Boeing airplanes, it's "hyperbole" to talk about guaranteeing future work.
When the jet-maker launches its next new airplanes, likely a 757 replacement around 2019 or a 737 replacement around 2020, "Boeing will take us through this all over again," he said.
"Boeing will come back to the unions and say, 'Give us more concessions,'?" Hamilton said. "It will come back to the state and say, 'Give us more tax breaks.'
"There is no guarantee that the next new airplane will be built here."
For Pietsch of the governor's aerospace office, however, it's one step at a time -- the first being to smooth the way for Boeing to construct a new facility to fabricate the 777X's composite plastic wing.
Boeing projects that just this facility, at a still-unidentified site in Washington state, will require up to $4 billion in new investment and will provide nearly 3,000 jobs at peak production in 2024.
"We've been working all year with this goal in mind. We know the 777X will bring tremendous economic activity for the state of Washington," Pietsch said. "Now we go about the work of making sure Boeing has what it needs to build this wing factory and get started."
"Then we can start talking to the rest of the supply chain and bringing more companies to Washington," he added.
The IAM International's Michalski, who was in Seattle for the Friday vote, emphasized the "silver lining" of job security.
"If you're a young person, you've got a future here in aerospace," Michalski said. "Parents and grandparents should be happy."
"It's all about being able to compete with the rest of the world," he added, expressing a common sentiment with Boeing executives.
And yet, the deal leaves the IAM in disarray and greatly diminishes the bargaining power of blue-collar workers.
Grunberg, a University of Puget Sound professor of sociology, sees the context of the Boeing deal as the shrinking of the labor movement nationally.
Union membership has shrunk to 5 or 6 percent of the workforce in the private sector and the number of strikes is "down dramatically" since the 1980s, he said.
The steady erosion of traditional pensions in the American workplace is well documented.
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