Mighty global aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, should change its name to “Boing.” That’s the sound you heard when the compressed duress of the Boeing contract extension offer to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) gave way to grudging acceptance by the union; “BOING.” And it’s not just the whisker-thin 51% approval of the offer; it’s the national union implications of that approval. A local machinists union leader was quoted in the Washington Post as saying, “Their fear and intimidation worked,” Or, as Jimmy Hoffa once told me in a TV interview, “They got ’em by the short hairs.” No, not ‘those’ hairs, you naughty person, but the ‘short hairs’ of the neck.
It’s an eight-year deal that will in force after the current contract expires in 2016. In real terms, the workers will be under contract until 2024. The approval was made possible only by pressure from the parent union and the threat that work on the upcoming 777X and its new composite airplane wing would be transferred outside of Washington and Oregon to one of the 22 bidding states that ignore the needs of education, health care, the poor and infirm, but will unearth from mysterious budget sources, heretofore untapped, however much money it takes to capture a company within its borders with the ethics of an alley cat.
The big contract loss for union members is put in graphic terms by an Oregonian write-up. One worker estimates the deal will cost him $250,000 in pension benefits. His current pension is now frozen after 2016; fixed pensions for new employees are no more. These lost benefits are replaced by a company 401-K plan, about as stable as a meth-addict on a tightrope in a high wind, though the Seattle Times puts Boeing estimates of an annual yield at 7%. To put it bluntly, one market collapse and all those contributions disappear. Of course, the fees to the financial community will have already been pocketed.
It’s not that machinist union members are not well compensated. They are; some upwards of $100,000 or more with overtime. Though the starting IAM wage can be $12 an hour, a wet-behind-the-ears young apprentice can eventually haul in as much as 60 grand.
Boeing is predictably poor-mouthing their bottom line: The company word is that competition is forcing it to sell its products at deeply discounted prices, so cuts have to made somewhere (wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Those sacrifices will most certainly not be manifested at the CEO level. Jim McNerney backed up his Maybach to a Boeing hanger and let Boeing load up the trunk with $27 million in compensation for the year 2012; $8.7 million of that in pension and supplemental retirement benefits. Executive pension freezes and reductions were not part of the latest deal.
Boeing stock sells in the $130 per share range. The company just raised their dividend by a third. Profits are allegedly around $4.5 billion. Maybe, maybe not. With Boeing’s track record of endless fines for fiscal misconduct and assorted ethical corner-cutting, I believe almost nothing it’s PR folks say.
Washington Democratic Governor Jay Inslee is caught between a rock (a decent contract) and a hard place (continued presence of jobs) in declaring that Washington “secured its place as the aerospace capital of the world.” Inslee was instrumental in ramming $8.7 billion in tax breaks through the state legislature to guarantee the 777X deal; “BOING.” That’s free taxpayer money that goes to paying off worker salaries with no impact to the company bottom line. Essentially a free workforce for however far the $8.7 billion will go. This corporate sugar doesn’t even take into account a total of $200 million in assorted incentives from Boeing’s Gresham, Oregon facility in the last 6 years including the largest property tax break in the history of the city.
In my South Carolina ‘Right toWork’ redneck of the woods, I predict the reaction will target the ‘greed’ of the workers. Logic would dictate that strong union states make sure a fair piece of the corporate pie is served to those people who make a successful business, successful. Certain skills can command relatively high wages. It doesn’t bother the locals in the least that billionaires basically call all the shots in their lives. Apparently the so-called ‘free market’ only applies to the top 1 or 2% of the population. Right-wingers, in doing irreparable harm to future generations, including their own children and grandchildren, are convinced union members are greedy when they want to get paid what they’re worth.
It’s because there are so many anti-union, Right to Work states (half of ’em), that the union movement is being threatened as never before. And when unions go, it’s curtains for decent wages. Even the Rupert Murdoch right-wing mouthpiece, the Wall Street Journal, is forced to concede the fact that workers in Right to Work states sacrifice 10% a week in wages. Advertising that your state is “Right to Work” is a desperate and open invitation to giant cheapo enterprises to come in and screw your people out of every penny they can while the owners reap billions. Pardon me, but just exactly how consummately stupid can you be?
Uninformed and naïve easy marks, notwithstanding, the sad fact is that the huge multi-nationals are in the catbird seat. Most unions are flailing as they’re in very real danger of going down for the third time in waters polluted by social extremists who will vote, as they have repeatedly in the last decade or so, against their own and their neighbor’s interests. The mere threat of moving to a more accepting clime, whether it be in the U.S. or abroad, is often enough to bring the locals to a swoon of acceptance of crappy wages, benefits and working conditions. Anything for a job, full-time, part-time, all night, staggered shifts; anything! And if the workers don’t toe the line, it’s off to some far-off exotic port, whose leadership couldn’t care less if 1,129 people died in the April collapse outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh of a commercial building housing 5 garment factories and a handful of other businesses. There were over 2,500 injuries.
It’s time for government to govern. Elect Democrats who don’t think regulation is a bad word, but a necessary and, in fact, imperative tool to bring reason back to the majority of giant corporations, too many of which represent the worst of capitalism. Start concentrating incentives on local small and medium-size businesses. Crack down on Romney-like global tax avoidance havens. Make government contracts reflect the honesty and competence of the entities involved and enforce the corporate tax rate by increasing IRS investigators with special attention paid to known tax cheats.
According to government statistics, businesses with 500 or fewer employees represent over 99% of all firms. Raise their bottom lines, encourage multi-nationals to quit trying to intimidate and cheat all the time and clean up their acts and become good and trustworthy citizens.
If we attain all these goals, the result will be a booming and trustworthy capitalist society. Then you can sincerely repeat the last six words of Michelle Obama’s famously uttered quote from February 18, 2008: “I’m really proud of my country.”