FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Boeing Workers Take a Stand & Take the Heat

by CARL FINAMORE

Local IAM District 751 union leaders in the state of Washington are feeling the fallout of Boeing’s extremely well-orchestrated counteroffensive begun immediately after Nov. 13 when 67% of union members rejected the company’s concessionary contract extension through 2024 of an existing agreement that does not actually expire until 2016.

Everyone expected Boeing would turn up the heat by threatening economic catastrophe for the Puget Sound area and thousands of lost jobs but these unionists were blindsided from a most unexpected source.

The IAM international, overruling local leadership, abruptly announced a Jan. 3 vote of another extension agreement eerily similar to the one that had just been rejected.

District 751’s website reported “International President R. Thomas Buffenbarger ordered the vote over objections of 751’s elected officials… and announced the Jan. 3rd vote to the Seattle Times on Saturday, Dec. 21.”

Obviously disappointed with the national leadership, a longtime IAM member told me “this rushed vote is not right,” and pointed out “35% of our members are on vacation during this period,” unable to get the information and participate in a democratic discussion.

Plus, he said with some exasperation, “not one phone call, no contact whatsoever from our international. We had to read about the scheduled Jan. 3 vote in the Seattle Times.”

This same source reported the IAM international refused District 751’s request to postpone the vote by even one working day to give more time for review of the contract by workers just returning from the annual holiday vacation period.

But District 751 did officially report a partial solution “recognizing that many of our members are on approved vacation and out of the area on the voting day of Jan. 3, District 751 got the International President to grant authority to do a one-time absentee ballot process….”

It was clear from the beginning national IAM officials were upset with the Nov. 13 overwhelming rejection of their deal with Boeing and they seemed to be making the point more emphatically by ordering a new vote over the heads of elected local leaders.

Only a few days earlier, a veteran unionist expressed to me with some pride about “our members overwhelmingly rejecting Boeing’s ‘race to the bottom’ and rejecting tearing apart 78 years of bargaining gains. We want the Boeing 777x production line to be located here but their price was just too high. It would dismantle our wage and benefits base and would cripple the economy of our communities.”

It’s true, the price was high, very high.

How High is Too High?

Readers may recall the company’s November offer as described by IAM District 751 president Tom Wroblewski:

“Freezing your pensions, eliminating them for new Machinists….Raising everyone’s health care contributions by as much as $4,000 a year over 2011 levels….Limiting future wage increases to 1 percent every other year, and locking in current starting pay rates until 2024, when thousands of Boeing jobs would be below minimum wage.”

This “race to the bottom” was from the world’s largest aerospace company reporting profits of $6.3 billion in 2012. It really was a horrendous proposal and it was a breath of fresh air to finally have a sizable industrial workforce shouting out a resounding “No!”

It was also truly quite remarkable in today’s labor scene because the company repeatedly threatened severe job losses if it were not accepted. This intimidation is normally quite effective.

As a result, rejection by these large numbers does not happen very often. Workers are usually forced to yield to full-out corporate power in the absence of an organized union opposition.  And in this case, even though the District 751 IAM local leadership was apparently overwhelmingly opposed to the original Nov. 13 proposal, their public voices fell silent under pressure from the IAM international.

Things have changed. Now, despite even more intense pressure from the international, District 751 leadership is openly opposing Boeing’s slightly modified terms by “adamantly recommending members reject…the new offer to be voted on Jan. 3 [because it] contains no significant changes” from the Nov. 13 version and “because of the massive takeaways.”

An experienced Boeing unionist emphasized to me these takeaways are completely unjustified, “labor costs account for only 5% of production costs as it is,” he exclaimed.

Contrary to this view, the international union’s Dec. 26 letter to Boeing members stated, “new improvements to the contract offer adds more than $1 billion to the previous offer. This represents a ‘significant’ improvement worthy of the membership’s consideration.”

Critics respond that this figure is quite misleading since it includes $720 million of pay progression that exists in the current contract. In addition, the total package is still less than Boeing’s profits in 2012 alone. District 751 firmly reiterated its view that the deal lasting through 2024 “would place our members in an unacceptable position over 11 long years without the ability to negotiate any reasonable im­provements during this time period.”

Well-Tested Concessionary Script

Boeing’s pressure campaign continues to play out in ways that vividly reveals how corporate and political power stack the deck against workers. For example, since the Nov. 13 rejection vote, Boeing unleashed a bidding war in 22 states as alternative production sites for the 777x wide-body production line.

“Race to the bottom” bids came from an array of bipartisan liberal and conservative politicians, each pitching literally billions of dollars in tax write offs, lower wage rates and compliant labor forces that “would not strike” according to Mobile, Alabama mayor Tommy Battle.

Previously, Washington state passed legislation offering Boeing $8.7 billion in tax breaks over 16 years, the largest state corporate subsidy in U.S. history.

But, not to be underbid, almost the entire California congressional delegation wrote Boeing on Dec. 5 that “we have every confidence that the State of California…will respond with a very competitive application for Boeing to consider.”

A Georgia economic-development official told Reuters the state was “salivating” after the Machinists’ rejection vote. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s representatives boasted that his state was named by Forbes Magazine as the most “business-friendly” in the nation. Meanwhile, the memory-challenged Texas Gov. Rick Perry tweeted his state “is a right-to-work state w/ low taxes, smart regulations & skilled workers — perfect for @Boeing 777x manu!”

These giveaway incentives whet Boeing’s ravenous appetite and dampen legitimate collective bargaining efforts of Machinists to uphold decent wage and benefit standards.

Unfortunately, instead of challenging company threats with a public campaign against Boeing’s extortion, international IAM officersconceded “…the fact that several states have tendered serious offers and incentive packages to the Company, the timeline for the Puget Sound area is expiring.”

In effect, this places political pressure on workers refusing deep cuts rather than on a company demanding excessive profits.

To make matters worse, other aerospace union leaders joined the bidding war as if throwback concessions forced upon them have somehow evolved into a bargaining advantage.

Me or We

The Seattle Times quoted the financial secretary at United Auto Workers Local 148, which represents Boeing workers in Long Beach, California as saying that his union already accepted some concessions that Machinists in Washington rejected. For one thing, the union representative said, new UAW Local 148 workers don’t get pensions — something Machinists in Washington, he observed, have refused to give up.

Again, the Dec. 17 Seattle Times further described the views of the UAW 148 bargaining committee chairman as believing the current union contract with Boeing has company-friendly elements compared with the Machinists union contract.

While the UAW international declined our request for an interview, UAW 148 president Stanley Klemchuk did tell me that “of course we would like to get the work but we are not trying to steal any jobs.”

Nonetheless, at least some of the comments cited above make clear that corporate threats against job security takes a powerful toll on the consciousness of workers – UAW 148 faces closure by Boeing of their C-17 military transport production line in 2015 – suggesting each local make it own deals instead of standing together to uphold national standards.

This false consciousness is the sad and tragic legacy of concession bargaining that subverts solidarity by squeezing workers desperate for jobs.

Thus, the stand of so large a number of Boeing workers stands in sharp contrast to standard “defensive” bargaining of the last decades where negotiations are seen through the narrow prism, or prison, of only trying to keep concessions to a minimum.

As we have described, Boeing workers are up against mounting threats of job losses. They are feeling it every day from the media, from politicians, from government, from Boeing, and most disgracefully, they are experiencing gross interference from their own international officers under the pretext of giving members a right to vote.

The Jan. 3 vote will be watched closely. Don’t these workers deserve our full support if ever we are to escape the spiral of concession bargaining and “race to the bottom?”

Carl Finamore is former president (ret), Air Transport Employees, Local Lodge 1781, IAMAW. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

Carl Finamore is Machinist Lodge 1781 delegate, San Francisco Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He can be reached at local1781@yahoo.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail