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Originally published November 16, 2013 at 6:05 PM | Page modified November 16, 2013 at 9:25 PM

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‘Squeeze play’ on Machinists is reality elites failed to feel

Business and political leaders were complicit in disrespecting workers in Boeing deal. That’s why it failed.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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There was a revealing moment the other night, after the resounding “no” vote from Boeing’s Machinists, when Gov. Jay Inslee was asked if he respected the decision they’d made.

“I respect reality,” he said. “And the reality is we could have won tonight. Some folks made a vote, about two to one, where that vote did not come out the way that would allow us to win. That’s a reality.”

Who is this “us”? Because the people who build the planes didn’t feel it included them.

I’m not trying to be overly flip here. This answer from Inslee — his implication that he didn’t respect the workers for their decision — goes a long way to explaining why the rank-and-file Machinists were so put off by this entire exercise that it ended in a debacle.

After the vote I talked to or corresponded with a dozen Machinists. As might be expected, they hold widely varying opinions on the contract they were just offered (some thought it OK, some hated it), on Boeing (some love the place, some don’t trust it) and on politics (most vote Democrat, a few said they’re more conservative or don’t care).

All were exasperated at their dysfunctional union leadership, for “setting us up to fail,” as one said. And they were left feeling “disrespected” — not so much by Boeing as, surprisingly, Inslee, Sen. Patty Murray and the rest of the political class in the state.

“I never thought I’d see Jay Inslee and Patty Murray involved in a squeeze play on the middle class,” said one.

“It was like being kneecapped by someone you thought was your friend,” said another.

“I don’t know if they meant to, but they hung us out to dry,” said a third.

Notice I said above that this is how some Machinists “feel.” Feelings aren’t facts. Inslee and Murray have equally strong feelings that they were trying to secure jobs and economic growth for their state. Plus they may have been as misled by union leadership as the union was.

But here’s how this past week seemed choreographed to many Machinists:

Boeing, you get $9 billion. Politicians, you get a “big win” to hail at news conferences. And workers, you get to cancel your pensions.

Deal?

Last Sunday I noted how the head of Boeing, Jim McNerney, is set to draw a pension that pays a quarter-million dollars per month. Gov. Inslee, Sen. Murray and the rest of the public officials extolling this deal also have nice, safe pensions. That’s fine, but they ought to know how grating it sounds when this same elite class finds it imperative that workers — and only the workers — should unwind their retirement security.

“I know change can be hard,” Boeing commercial jet president Ray Conner sympathized.

Especially when only one party to a deal is being asked to change!

People say the Machinists are blind to how good they have it. Probably so. But be honest: If your boss said to you, “Hey we’re making record profits, and paying ourselves phantasmagorical amounts, but to remain a going concern we must cut your retirement,” how would you react?

I would at least expect an explanation — a primer, say, on the forward-cost calculations of jetliner development. A number of Machinists told me they’d take a hit to their pensions if there was some sense of shared sacrifice from above.

Instead, what they got was: Take this, now, or we’re outta here. All cheered on, implicitly, by Inslee, Murray and the other lifetime pensioners we have in public office.

In the elite class’ defense, workers usually do cave. There’s long been resignation about the race to the bottom.

But who knows, maybe the winds are shifting. In the past week the Boeing Machinists said “no,” SeaTac voters appeared to be raising their minimum wage to $15 an hour and Seattle elected its first socialist to the City Council, apparently ever.

We could still win this airplane. But it feels like business and political leaders, rather than lecturing about their version of reality, might acknowledge there’s a new one emerging, clamoring for some respect of its own.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com



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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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