Our Voice: Boeing machinists vote for Washington

January 9, 2014 

The recently approved machinists contract is a win for Washington, but it begs a few unanswered questions.

Does this become the new format for negotiations in our state -- threaten to leave the area if you don't get what you want?

What about the level of confidence in local unions? Are the machinists union leaders in Washington so far out of touch that they won't even call for a vote on a proposal that ultimately was passed by voting members? Why was it necessary for the national body step in and strong-arm local officials?

It's true that the measure passed, but it passed narrowly -- by a margin of only 600 votes and during the holidays when more than a few would-be voters weren't available.

The vote was so close it leaves us wondering about how it was approved, especially since it was soundly defeated just a few months earlier.

But it puzzles us even more that local union officials weren't going to let their members vote on the contract. They wouldn't have gotten to vote, except for pressure from the national level.

It is true that unions are losing some of the popularity they once enjoyed with labor in this country. Their numbers have gone down by two-thirds since their heyday in the 1950s.

Some unions have suffered corruption, but most clearly operate in the members' best interest.

The purpose of a union is to represent its members in collective bargaining. Unions bind their members together to secure better wages and benefits than they likely would get on their own. Union efforts brought better working conditions for all Americans -- even those who don't belong to a union.

Union leaders are charged with leading the bargaining. Their job is to represent the members. Why, then, did the local machinists not want to put the latest offer to their members?

We don't have an answer for that.

As far as the state's role in securing the Boeing contract, legislators did what they had to do. Had they not, some other state would have.

As a result, at $8.7 billion, our state now has the dubious honor paying out the largest corporate tax subsidy in U.S. history.

But if Washington had not come through, plenty of other states -- 22 of them -- bid on the 777x project.

We see the value in courting and retaining the Boeing 777x. Clearly almost two dozen others states agree with us.

The eight-year contract is estimated to be worth 20,000 jobs and $20 billion for Washington.

And even though Boeing is a westside name, its reach spills over the Cascades to companies in places like Kennewick and Moses Lake.

Yes, the 777x may well have set a new negotiating standard. We hope not. But it would only work when the commodity is hot.

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