For Boeing workers it was a late night in Washington state. For Gov. Jay Inslee, members of the Legislature and thousands of families with incomes dependent on the aerospace giant, it was “Sleepless in Seattle,” without the storybook ending.
International Association of Machinists members voted 67 percent against a deal that would secure an estimated 20 years of work building Boeing’s 777X jet.
It was a historic decision that could forever alter the course of Boeing’s 97-year presence in the state.
Within hours Boeing Commercial Airplanes Chief Executive Ray Conner issued a statement.
“We are very disappointed in the outcome of the union vote. Without the terms of this contract extension, we’re left with no choice but to open the process competitively and pursue all options for the 777X.”
Who’s in the running? Manufacturing sites in North Charleston; Long Beach, Calif.; Salt Lake City; and Huntsville, Ala., have all been mentioned as possible assembly sites for the 777X.
Depending on whom you ask, each has its own merits.
Life is all about choices. In 2008 the union thought Boeing was bluffing when labor tensions led the company to investigate building an assembly plant in Charleston. In November 2009, Boeing broke ground.
That was Phase 1. The company committed to investing $750 million and creating 3,800 new jobs in our state in eight years.
Today, four years ahead of schedule, well over $1 billion has been invested and there are more than 6,000 employees on site at Boeing South Carolina.
On Tuesday, on the eve of the Union vote, Boeing broke new ground for Propulsion South Carolina, where engine inlet parts will be designed and assembled for the 737 MAX and possibly future airplanes.
That facility is part of Phase 2, another $1 billion and 2,000 new jobs in Charleston.
Union bluster in Puget Sound borders on delusion. After last Thursday’s meeting one IAM member said, “Do you think the airline customer is going to want this plane built somewhere else where there’s no expertise?”
South Carolina has provided skilled workers and a supportive State Legislature.
Boeing, to quote South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell has “seriously under-promised and over-delivered.”
This is a partnership with a future.
Wilson Ferguson, vice president of IAM District 751, said Boeing’s attempt to put the “future of the job market of the Puget Sound for the next 30 years on us is ridiculous.”
“If they’re going to make those business decisions and take the company down the road to corporate suicide, that’s entirely their business,” he said.
Boeing’s profits are rebounding. Its stock is hitting new highs. New 787s are being shipped to airlines around the world and demand seems almost uncapped over the next several decades. That sounds like good business to me.
Some say that Puget Sound and the Union could still be in the running. But Albert Einstein is often attributed with saying, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
The union has made the same choice as in 2008. The result is likely to be the same.
South Carolina and three other states are now eagerly awaiting Boeing’s decision.
Chip Limehouse, a Charleston Republican, represents District 110 in the S.C. House of Representatives.
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