Air show delegation will be wearing their smiley faces
Gov. Gregoire will attend the Paris Air Show, meeting with executives at aerospace companies. A Machinists union delegation will also attend. Though Gregoire portrays labor relations at Boeing as better than in the past, the recent political furor over the NLRB complaint against the company — spurred by the union — may make that hard to sell.
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Gov. Chris Gregoire will have her work cut out for her at the Paris Air Show next month. As she tries to sell Washington state to global aerospace suppliers, a national political furor threatens to overshadow a key message.
With delegations of Machinist and engineering union officials in tow, she plans to tell the aviation world that the highly skilled aerospace work force here is "our ticket to success" — and that relations between the International Association of Machinists (IAM) and Boeing management are "much healthier" than in the past.
"I want to make it clear with labor present with us, that anything [aerospace executives] may have heard that it's not a good working relationship between management and labor simply isn't true," Gregoire said last week.
You couldn't blame her listeners if they have their doubts. Last month the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a complaint against Boeing spurred by the Machinists.
Arguing that Boeing executives chose to locate a second production line for the 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, S.C., in illegal retaliation for past strikes by the Machinists, the NLRB seeks to force Boeing to reverse that 2009 decision.
Gregoire will inevitably face questions about the issue in Paris.
The loud political reverberations threaten to blow away any notion of cozy amity between Boeing and the Machinists.
In an op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Gregoire's counterpart in South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley, criticized the union's "coercion, bullying and undue political influence" and lauded South Carolina's status as a "right-to-work state" where union membership cannot be compelled in any workplace.
Also in The Wall Street Journal, Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney wrote ominously that if the NLRB prevails then "forward-thinking CEOs ... would be reluctant to place new plants in unionized states."
Yet speaking in her Olympia office last week, Gregoire insisted that labor relations between Boeing and its blue-collar union, which hit a new low with that 787 second-line decision, are much improved two years later.
She cited as evidence the cooperation between the company and the union to win the Air Force tanker contract earlier this year. And she pointed to a partnership between the union and the company to promote aerospace-worker training centers in Everett, Renton and Spokane.
As for the inconvenient NLRB complaint, unlike Haley of South Carolina, Gregoire has to show deference to both the company and the union. She pointedly chose not to take sides, saying she hopes Boeing and the union can settle it out of court.
"The politicians ought to get out of the way and be quiet," Gregoire said. "The politicians are becoming the problem."
The union district 751 president, Tom Wroblewski, filed the unfair labor-practice charge that spurred the NLRB action.
Speaking about his Paris plans, he didn't back away from it.
"I did what I have to do" on the NLRB charge, Wroblewski said. "I do have to move on as well."
He said he continues to work productively with the company on other matters.
Last week, for example, he had discussions with management about allowing some nonunion workers into the Everett factory to help out on the 747-8 line.
Wroblewski said he will attend an international trade-union conference in Paris timed to coincide with the Air Show and is happy to also support Washington's efforts to promote the industry.
"It comes back to the skilled work force we have," he said. "We're there to say we know how to build aircraft and we've been doing it for a long, long time."
"This is what we have to offer, experience and ability," Wroblewski added. "We're not these ugly ogres."
Gregoire said it's also important to tell the aviation world how well the state government works with Boeing.
Speaking with the state budget talks still hanging, she said she hopes to deliver all of Boeing's wish list, including reform to worker's comp and unemployment insurance.
"They'll walk out of this legislative session — fingers crossed, I hope I get there — with every one of their priorities," she said.
Gregoire knows that the greatest aerospace prize ahead is the jet that Boeing will likely announce sometime later this year, after Paris: a replacement for the 737.
"We're gearing up," said Gregoire, "I think we'll be the No. 1 competitor."
She has a dizzy schedule of private meetings with senior executives at major aerospace suppliers, whom she wants to woo to locate or to expand here.
Gregoire will also meet with Boeing CEO McNerney and lunch with officials of COMAC, the Chinese state airplane-maker that is developing a new narrow-body jet.
But she said she doesn't have either the budget or the inclination to try to emulate what some southern U.S. states have done at past air shows. In 2009, Alabama promoted its tanker bid with a swanky preshow soiree on an upper floor of the Eiffel Tower.
"I don't have Washington state taxpayer money to spend on entertaining lavishly at the Eiffel Tower," Greogoire said. "We're there to do business."
That business goes beyond Boeing.
"Our suppliers supply Airbus," she said. "We want to be the home of manufacturing for Boeing. We also want to be the home for aerospace."
Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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