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Originally published October 28, 2009 at 6:50 PM | Page modified October 29, 2009 at 1:31 AM

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Machinists disappointed, call union 'a handy scapegoat'

Machinists in Everett expressed disappointment Wednesday at Boeing's decision to locate the second 787 assembly line in South Carolina but said that the union wasn't to blame for the outcome.

Seattle Times staff reporters

 

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Machinists who gathered Wednesday outside District 751 in Everett for a regularly scheduled meeting expressed disappointment at Boeing's decision to put the second 787 assembly line in South Carolina but said the union wasn't to blame for the outcome.

"This is a company that makes decisions two, three, four years in advance," said John Scofield, a Machinist who works on final assembly for the 777. "The company used the negotiations to scare South Carolina into a sweeter offer. We make a handy scapegoat."

Several Machinists said they would have agreed to a no-strike clause if Boeing had been willing to preserve existing medical benefits and offer some wage increases over the proposed 10-year contract.

"I was all for a no-strike clause as long as we preserved current benefits and got some kind of perk," said Zen Jenne, who joined the 787 line almost three years ago, thinking it would mean a secure future for himself and his family.

The future now, he said, is "uncertainty."

Charlie Grieser, a team lead on the 767 line, said former Boeing executive Alan Mulally, now Ford Motor CEO, had just negotiated a no-strike contract at Ford (though some union locals turned down that proposal in voting this week). He said Boeing could have reached a similar agreement with the Machinists if it had pursued negotiations.

Grieser questioned Boeing's ultimate goal.

"Instead of relying on threats and intimidation, why don't they negotiate in good faith? I think they're on their way to China."

Bobbie Skar, a shop steward on the 787 who has worked for the company 24 years, said she was disappointed but not surprised at Boeing's decision.

"It makes me sad. It makes me more than sad."

She said Everett Machinists are fixing 787 parts that arrive with defects from Charleston and questioned whether a relatively inexperienced South Carolina work force will deliver the high quality for which Boeing airplanes are known.

"The community here is going to suffer. Boeing is going to suffer, because they don't have the trained work force in South Carolina," Skar said.

In Renton, a Boeing employee in her 50s who has worked at the company 20 years, aired her anger outside the plant Wednesday. The Charleston decision "was a foregone conclusion," she said, asking not to be named.

"All that negotiating was just a big play," she said. "And asking us not to strike for 10 years was a ridiculous request."

But Tom Wroblewski, president of Machinists District 751, said the union had been willing to work out a 10-year contract that would have assured labor peace.

He said the company had not tried to negotiate.

"You'd have to have something passed back to you to have a negotiation," he said at a news conference near Boeing Field.

The union offered Boeing a 10-year contract, he said, "and even offered one longer than that. And when we did, they seemed stunned, and they stopped talking."

The union has asked Boeing for job guarantees since the 1990s, Wroblewski said, and now the company's incentives from South Carolina hinge on creating 3,800 jobs there.

"Why couldn't they guarantee Puget Sound 3,800 jobs ever?" he asked.

"It's now clear that Boeing was only using our talks as a smoke screen and as a bargaining chip to extort a bigger tax handout from South Carolina."

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