Originally published July 31, 2011 at 4:00 PM | Page modified July 31, 2011 at 6:01 PM

Pay attention to Boeing's warning about future 737 jobs

The Seattle Times editorial board responds to Boeing CEO Jim McNerney's threat to move the 737 line away with a plea to keep the work here.

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THE Puget Sound economy has a crucial stake in Boeing continuing to build the 737 in Renton. These are jobs that cannot be replaced. They must stay here.

No one, least of all the International Association of Machinists, ought to dismiss CEO Jim McNerney's reminder that Boeing might assemble the 737 elsewhere. Whatever his objective — the 2012 labor contract, the case at the National Labor Relations Board, etc. — it pays to take him seriously. And don't expect him to be too clear about why he's saying this, because last time he did that, the union complained to the Labor Board.

People learn from their mistakes.

We hope the Machinists leadership has learned from its mistake in losing the second 787 line. Recall that to keep the line here, the company demanded a 10-year no-strike deal, with arbitration. The union countered with a demand that commercial airplane work stay here for the same period. Boeing rejected the union's demand. The union rejected Boeing's demand and the company announced for Charleston, S.C.

That was a loss for the region. A big loss. It was a loss for workers here, especially in the long run, and maybe for the union as an institution.

The union's leaders didn't want to bargain away their right to strike. It goes against their upbringing. But influencing an employer where to build its future is a different problem than extracting a pay raise.

The Machinists cannot keep Boeing here with strikes. In the long run, it cannot do it by enlisting the Labor Board. In this game, labor's power is not its ability to stop work but to do work — to assemble 20, 40 or even 60 airplanes a month in a single plant, to assemble them right.

That is a strong position. An enviable position. Keeping the work here is not a lost cause, but it requires a collaborative strategy much different from the old style of confrontation. This is obvious from the fact that on this issue the workers here and the managers here have the same interest.

As does the region. The people of Washington support aircraft manufacturing. We celebrate it. There should be no doubt about this, least of all in the mind of some executives in Chicago.


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