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Originally published Monday, December 9, 2013 at 5:00 PM

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Guest: Why Boeing and the Machinists need to come back to the table

Boeing and the Machinists need to come back to the table to assemble the 777X in Washington state, and not just because of the jobs, writes guest columnist Jon Fine.


Special to The Times

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FIFTY-six thousand jobs. Billions of dollars injected into our regional economy. These are the stakes in local production of the Boeing 777X — but only some of them.

Other reasons the company and its workers should come together: Ending homelessness, giving every child an equal chance to succeed in school and helping struggling veterans get back in the workforce. Boeing and its employees are a vital part of these human services and many others. I see this every day in my role at United Way of King County.

Emotions are raw between the company and the Machinists after the union rejected Boeing’s contract proposal in November. I wouldn’t presume to say how they should come to terms. But I would observe the following: Boeing wants to build planes here, and there is probably no better place on the planet to do it.

The highly skilled Machinists want good, well-paying jobs, but are now competing with a globalized workforce, making Boeing’s site choice harder. To keep the 777X, our community needs for the company and the Machinists to find an accommodation that honors both sides’ legitimate interests.

When they’re together and united, the company, its employees and retirees are a phenomenal force for good. In 2012, they collectively invested more than $52 million in communities around Washington; $10 million came from the Employees Community Fund of Boeing Puget Sound.

Since 1951, the community fund has given a half-billion to area nonprofits, and the International Association of Machinists makes other contributions. Last spring, the company and its workers joined with the Seattle Mariners and United Way to help raise more than $1 million at a celebrity softball event for homeless youth.

Add to all of that the 100,000 hours that Boeing workers contribute each year as volunteers at hundreds of area nonprofits — hours the company matches with a cash contribution.

There are Boeing employees tutoring kids in science and math, mentoring youth at risk of dropping out, improving parks, bringing meals to the ill or elderly and serving on boards. That includes the board of United Way, where Boeing executives and union leaders have long served side by side.

Would all this be lost if the 777X goes elsewhere? No, parts of the company would remain. And, of course with other strong and philanthropic companies such as Microsoft, Nordstrom, Costco and Starbucks, our community is more diverse and resilient than it once was.

Nevertheless the blow would be substantial. There would be less support for good works and fewer volunteers. We would lose an incredible example of philanthropy that has set the tone for this community — a community that consistently shows up in the top ranks for giving and volunteering nationwide.

It must also be said that our community needs the kind of jobs found on a 777X assembly line. Skilled, well-paid manufacturing work provides a unique chance for thousands of area families to get ahead.

For a stark reminder of what happens when such jobs leave, simply look to places like Detroit. Even with our area’s broader economic base, the toll of losing the 777X would be harsh.

Come back to the table. Do it to keep the company strong. Do it for blue-collar families. Do it for the area’s nonprofits and the vulnerable people who need their help.

Do it because the very essence of Boeing — and its people — is coming together, solving complex problems and creating solutions that inspire.

Jon Fine is president and CEO of United Way of King County.




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