After Charleston move, Sen. Patty Murray "won't be as inclined" to help Boeing
Boeing's senior management told Sen. Patty Murray nine months ago that Everett had little chance of landing the second line of the 787 Dreamliner.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Through much of this year, Boeing said it was seriously considering Everett for the second line of the 787 Dreamliner. But as early as February, the company's senior management privately informed U.S. Sen. Patty Murray that Everett had little chance.
And the final days of the competition for the second line, which ended with Wednesday's announcement that Boeing had picked Charleston, S.C., convinced Murray that Boeing hadn't seriously pursued Everett as an option, said her spokeswoman, Alex Glass.
As a result, Murray — a Democratic member of the Senate's defense-appropriations subcommittee and longtime champion of Boeing's causes in Congress — will narrow her support of the company.
While this year, for example, she lobbied hard for Senate votes to get extra funding for California-built C-17s, in the future she'll do that only when it benefits Washington state workers, Glass said.
"She won't be as inclined to work for anything not Washington state-related for this company," Glass said.
Details of Murray's discussions with the company since early this year, first reported online Friday by The Everett Herald, were confirmed for The Seattle Times by a person close to Murray and familiar with the details of all the meetings.
On Feb. 9, Murray met with Tim Keating, Boeing's senior vice president of government operations, and his chief of staff, Phil Ruter. Keating is on Boeing's executive council, the most senior leadership team of the company.
The two told Murray that senior management was frustrated by the Machinists strike the previous fall and concerned about how customers and Wall Street viewed Boeing as a result of the two-month stoppage, the person close to Murray said.
Boeing CEO Jim McNerney "was sick and tired" of the union's history of strikes, and was "looking elsewhere" to put the second 787 line, Keating and Ruter told Murray.
Keating advised Murray not to expend her political capital working on Everett's behalf, the person said.
On March 11, Murray arranged for McNerney to meet in Washington, D.C., with most of the state's congressional delegation. McNerney frankly laid out his frustration with the union and said he'd need a long-term, no-strike agreement.
In the months that followed, Murray encouraged continued talks between the union and the company but was not directly involved in the details.
"There were points in the process where we thought it was getting closer and that there was hope," Glass said.
In the final week of negotiations, Glass said, Murray read in The Seattle Times that the union, in a proposal Oct. 21 to Boeing, would be open to a no-strike agreement through 2020.
Murray considered that concession "a huge deal" for the union, Glass said. She was convinced the gap between the sides over other aspects of a potential deal could be closed with further talks.
But company negotiators never got back to the union on that offer, despite repeated phone calls from lead union negotiator Rich Michalski.
The day after the Oct. 26 board meeting at which the Boeing directors postponed a decision, Murray spoke with McNerney again and reiterated how close she believed the union was to the company's requirements.
But for the first time in their talks, McNerney told her there were other, unspecified considerations in play besides a long-term labor contract.
"That sent a clear signal that even as the union wanted to negotiate a deal they could live with, that Boeing was going to find a way not to be put in that position," Glass said. "Senator Murray was stunned to hear McNerney change his tune after all their discussions and all of his commitments to her."
The next day, Boeing announced it had picked Charleston.
According to accounts from both the company and the union, after Michalski told Keating on Oct. 24 that the union was open to further negotiations, the next time he heard from Boeing was a call to tell him the Charleston decision was final.
"They must not have wanted to get to the finish line" with the union, Glass said.
In an interview after the decision was announced, Boeing Vice President Doug Kight, one of three lead company negotiators, said Boeing had made it clear to union representatives that the Oct. 21 deadline required their best offer.
The one they produced wasn't good enough, and Boeing never offered a counterproposal because the deadline was firm, he said.
Kight insisted that had the union met the requirements Boeing laid down, "we would have taken forward a recommendation to the board to put the second 787 line in Everett."
In an interview with The Seattle Times soon after she got the final call from McNerney to tell her of Charleston's selection, Murray's disillusionment with Boeing was palpable.
"It's a corporate company with a board and stakeholders that don't share the culture of a family that we grew up with," Murray said.
The union was left with similar thoughts and a firm conviction that Boeing was never serious about Everett.
In an interview, the Machinists' international president, Tom Buffenbarger, said Boeing has "no loyalty ... except to the almighty dollar."
He described the negotiating process that has played out this year as "mental cruelty perpetrated upon the people of Puget Sound."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or email@example.com
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