Professor: Boeing Wants 'Amazing Concessions' from Machinists

Nov 11, 2013

The brinkmanship at play between Boeing and its 30,000 machinists over an eight-year contract proposal is a dramatic new chapter in the broader labor movement, says Leon Grunberg, a professor of sociology at the University of Puget Sound.

Grunberg, who co-authored "Turbulence: Boeing and the State of American Workers", says an eight-year contract is almost unheard of in collective bargaining.

"An eight years’ duration one, which would take it 'til 2024 because it wouldn’t start for a couple of years, is a huge amount of time where the union essentially can’t use its most powerful bargaining tool, which is the threat of a strike," he said. 

And Grunberg says the company is asking for what he calls "amazing concessions" on things like retirement benefits at a time when Boeing is financially strong. The company wants to shift workers to a 401(k)-style retirement plan after 2016. Workers would still get any pension they’ve accrued up until then.

Grunberg says labor leaders across the country are probably following this closely.

"If a local as strong as the machinists were with a company that’s doing as reasonably well as Boeing is, if these concessions go through, then, in a sense, no labor local is safe," he said. 

Of course, Boeing promises to locate assembly of the new wide-body 777 jet in the Puget Sound region as well as the carbon-fiber wing, and that means preserving thousands of jobs.

In a letter to employees, Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Ray Conner says he wants the union and company to have a long and prosperous future together. Conner says the proposal offers market-leading pay, health care, and retirement benefits, but that the company needs to take steps to keep its airplanes affordable in the face of increasing competition from Airbus.