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Originally published December 28, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Page modified December 30, 2013 at 10:09 AM

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Editorial: Build the 777X, and the future

Union members voting Friday on a revised Boeing contract need to think about long-term employment as they weigh near-term benefits.

Seattle Times Editorial

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MEMBERS of the Machinists union voting Friday on a revised Boeing contract offer must look ahead. The operative word is pragmatism, not nostalgia.

This is about long-term employment to build the 777X and carbon-fiber wing in Washington, and for final assembly of the 737 MAX.

Friday’s vote comes at the insistence of the International Association of Machinists’ leadership in Washington, D.C. A second vote after last month’s contract rejection was strongly resisted by Puget Sound-area IAM District 751.

In urging rank-and-file members to turn down the latest offer, local union leaders noted online:

“District 751 is recommending you reject the Company’s latest proposal because the terms of this agreement are destructive to what we have gained over the past 78 years.” The union has indeed served its members well for decades.

Boeing and its employees shared a long journey from the Great Depression, and through World War II production, and subsidized technology gains transferred to civilian airliners. They were joint beneficiaries of lucrative federal contracts.

Boeing and all the unions prospered through decades with effectively no competition as European and Asian economies rebuilt themselves from the rubble of war.

Union members built planes with an earned and well-deserved reputation for quality. Those skills and values persist and define the opportunity the company has in Puget Sound for decades to come.

But in those 78 years cited by the union, the global economy has changed, dramatically. Boeing has European and Asian competitors and collaborators.

The worldwide manufacturing economy is all about the mobility of assets, technology and means of production. Boeing has options that did not exist a generation ago.

Union members on Friday are not voting about what was negotiable and sustainable decades ago. They are weighing long-term employment, and — for many other workers in the economy — an enviable and unapproachable package of benefits and wages.

Boeing and its union employees build solid airplanes, but neither side has any demonstrated skills as gamblers.

Union strikes clouded by arrogant assumptions put the company in the mood to look around for assembly sites in nonunion states. Bungling management decisions about 787 outsourcing will be studied in MBA classes forever.

Union leadership cannot assume that rejecting the contract is a smart bet because Boeing really, really wants to stay in Puget Sound. The company has shown a capacity to act against its own self-interest at spectacular expense to its reputation and bottom line.

The state of Washington has tied $8 billion in tax largesse to Boeing staying in place. Another reason for pragmatism on management’s side of the table.

Boeing success in Washington and the quality work of its employees is not about nostalgia. The corporate reputation is tested every day on the plant floor and with every order that is filled.

Union workers voting Friday, in person and via absentee ballots, are voting about the future — their own and Boeing’s in Puget Sound.

No guessing, no gambling, no nostalgia. This vote is about economic realities in 2014, and the decades ahead.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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