Guest: Rob McKenna on why Machinists should vote yes on contract for Boeing 777X
A yes vote on Boeing’s 777X contract is a pro-union vote, writes guest columnist Rob McKenna.
Special to The Times
BOEING has been building airplanes in Washington state for nearly 100 years. Some believe that Boeing intends to build the new 777X in this state regardless of other factors like labor costs and government regulations.
They think there is no way that Boeing leaders intend to move many of its 85,000 jobs from the place of its founding.
The facts argue against such blind optimism.
I join with others who care about our state’s economic future in encouraging our local Machinists, who are weighing a second labor contract offer from Boeing, to vote yes on Friday.
Actually, Boeing has been preparing for a move like this for more than a decade. In 2001, Boeing shocked its hometown by announcing it would move its corporate headquarters.
It invited Dallas, Denver and Chicago to compete. Seattle was excluded from the contest. The three cities offered multi-million-dollar tax incentives and Chicago won. Washington political leaders sat on the sidelines in stunned disbelief.
During the search, longtime Democratic mayor of Chicago Richard Daley stated, “Businesses are international — they can go anywhere ... We do everything we can to keep business in Chicago and expand it.”
Clearly, Boeing moved its corporate headquarters so it could make business decisions purely based on taking care of its owners: the company’s stockholders.
Nobody wants to eliminate the jobs of one’s neighbors. Corporate decisions made 2,000 miles away can be based on economic realities.
Two years later, when Boeing announced a nationwide competition to build what would become the 787, many thought that Washington state had little chance of landing the plane. In fact, consulting firm Deloitte was hired to help with Washington’s bid and estimated that the state had only a 1-in-5 chance of winning the new plane sweepstakes.
Deloitte characterized the 787 competition as driven by Boeing’s intense struggle with Airbus and the need to reduce costs in order to compete. A nationwide bidding war ensued with Washington legislative leaders passing a package of a half-dozen needed bills — including tax, unemployment insurance and workers compensation reforms.
Afterward, Democrat and then-Gov. Gary Locke stated: “I totally believed that if the  were built in another state, that would mark the end of Boeing commercial airplane production in the state of Washington.”
Washington surprised many by winning the 787 competition.
Since the placement of the first 787 line in Everett, Boeing and its unions have been through bitter strikes. The company protected itself from such work stoppages by opening a second 787 production line in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, and it appears to be constantly moving engineering and consulting positions to other locations in the country and around the world.
Many are convinced that the labor troubles are so deep some in the company’s executive suite want to locate 777X production out of Washington if they can make any credible economic case for doing so. There are clearly others in Chicago who view Everett as the safest 777X choice, as long as it is reasonably competitive with other sites.
Competition is a problem for Washington. China, Brazil and Canada are eager to develop airplanes that will cost less and compete directly with Boeing planes. Airbus continues to receive national government subsidies to protect and grow its market share.
The International Association of Machinists (IAM) leadership has concluded that Boeing has legitimate concerns about manufacturing costs in Washington state. In order to compete with lower-cost competitors, Boeing estimates that it could still afford higher wages and benefit packages in our state, but it cannot afford its current defined-benefit pension plan.
IAM leaders have calculated that the second Boeing contract extension offer would provide approximately $1 billion more in pay and benefits than the previous proposal union members rejected in November. A yes vote by local Machinists on this offer is seen as critical to Washington landing the 777X assembly and its new high-tech wing.
Let’s be clear. A yes vote is a pro-IAM-union vote. It is a pro-future-jobs vote. It is a pro-current-employees-having-a-job-until-they-retire vote.
Boeing Machinists are to be applauded. Their hard work rescued a troubled 787 program. Their hard work has built generation after generation of the best planes in the world.
Let’s keep that track record going and ensure that future generations of Boeing planes are built right here in Washington state.
Rob McKenna is former Washington state attorney general, a 2012 candidate for governor and a partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe.