Boeing's union workers should rethink approach

Four strikes in 20 years has caused Boeing to look outside of Washington state to build its airplanes.

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The Boeing Co. is a huge driver of Washington state's economy. It employs about 70,000 people in well-paying jobs. The suppliers to Boeing's airplane assembly plants provide thousands of jobs, also well-paying. And when those employees spend that money it keeps restaurants, car dealers, grocery stores and other stores in business.

The economic impact, while felt strongest in the Puget Sound area, does cross the Cascades. Boeing money flows around the state. State government, too, counts on that Boeing cash to keep it running.

But frequent labor disputes between Boeing and union workers caused Boeing officials to rethink its business model. Instead of building a second 787 Dreamliner plant in Everett, Boeing went to South Carolina. There they can -- and will -- hire a non-union work force that will do the job for less pay and without the threat of striking. It was the strikes -- four in seven sets of contract talks over the past 20 years -- that is the biggest concern for Boeing.

When workers walk off the job planes don't get built and customers aren't happy. Those customers and potential customers look for another supplier.

Just last week Boeing announced it was going to dual source parts for its two 787 plants, which means it won't be forced to buy or manufacture parts or components produced by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Boeing played hardball with the union. While we aren't happy about Boeing making the move to South Carolina, we can understand why it happened.

The union leadership is out of touch with today's economic realities. It urged its members to strike over issues that weren't worth striking over. The union and its members have ultimately lost.

Sadly, the state of Washington and it citizens have lost and will likely lose more. The company, which was once based in Seattle, now has its corporate office in Chicago.

About half of its workers are in Washington state, but those numbers could dwindle in the coming years as Boeing sees opportunity to operate elsewhere without the threat of work stoppages.

We are not against labor unions. They have, over the years, done much to improve working conditions for all workers. Unions that have stood up for workers' rights and fair wages played a key role in the economic prosperity of this nation.

But some union officials have gone too far, seeking unreasonable wages and benefits in today's global economy.

The bulk of Boeing's assembly work is still in Washington state. Shutting down those huge facilities and moving elsewhere would be incredibly expensive.

This is an opportunity for union officials to rethink their hard-line approach. That might mean taking some lumps and giving up the right to strike, but it's far better than losing tens of thousands of jobs and a major force in the state's economy.

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