Boeing strikers stand up to outsourcing

October 23, 2008

Mark Blondin is past president of International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 751, the IAM's aerospace coordinator, and the lead negotiator for the 27,500 machinists on strike at Boeing. The key issue in the battle is Boeing's attempts to use nonunion subcontractors.

After two days of talks with Boeing to resolve the six-week-old strike broke off October 13, the Blondin spoke to Darrin Hoop about the fight to defend union jobs. The two sides were supposed to resume negotiations again on October 23, with a federal mediator sitting in.

WHY DID negotiations fail?

BECAUSE THE Boeing Company refused to make a commitment to the very people who have made them successful. They'd rather rely on outside people to come in and mess with the system that our members have perfected and are willing to perfect even more.

We are willing to embrace new technology and give new innovations and processes, but the company has to make a commitment that they'll be here tomorrow. We aren't going to agree to language that will turn our backs on these people--and [Boeing is] talking about a couple thousand jobs they'd like suppliers to do.

THERE ARE three issues that came up in the latest negotiations related to outsourcing. Could you tell us more about it?

ONE IS material delivery. When suppliers bring in their parts the company would like those suppliers to continue on and inspect them, do all the inventory, the movement, the dispersal and have them put it up on the airplane.

Our position is, we'll let the suppliers delivery their parts, but then the people who do that job for a living right now--our people--should do the rest of it. If it's a job that needs to be done, it ought to be done by the people who built this company, not outside suppliers. We can do it just as inexpensively, and we can certainly improve the processes that the company has put in place.

IAM members on the picket line at Boeing
IAM members on the picket line at Boeing (Elizabeth Fawthrop | SW)

This union wants a broader scope of work to look at what we can make proposals to keep in-house. The company puts out far too much work at more cost then keeping it in house. We say, "Give us the same data you use, labor costs, material costs, transportation costs, rework costs. Give us your numbers, and let us make a proposal to see if we can't beat that and let the American worker compete for this work."

COULD THAT potentially lead to the union having to change work rules or undercutting itself by having to compete with non-union subcontractors?

THIS UNION has always been flexible in processes, in job descriptions. We're all for having a flexible worker, a multi-talented, multi-skilled worker. But it's a two-way street. When you have that multi-skilled worker, multi-talented worker who can do a variety of processes, make a commitment that they're going to be around tomorrow. Don't hang these intimidation tactics over their head--that "you could be gone tomorrow."

Our members give their all. They give all their thoughts, their ideas, their hard work, and they ought to be at least given an opportunity to perform that job. That's what it is all about: commitment.

WHAT WILL it take to win this contract?

BOEING NEEDS to start embracing the word "partnership." When they decide that they want to get along with this workforce and move the company together forward, the worker and the management, then we'll be successful. We'll get there.

VOUGHT AIRCRAFT, which does a lot of work on the new 787, has recently opened a new plant outside the Charleston, S.C., airport.

WE ORGANIZED them. They voted to go IAM. We haven't got a first contract yet, but all the members there voted to join the IAM. We're trying to get a first contract with them. We're also on strike against Vought in Nashville, [where] about 900 people do Airbus and Cessna work. That company is bent on taking away their pension plan.

BACK at Boeing, why is the company taking such a hard line, considering everything the union is offering?

IT'S HARD to say, because this should be the time when they ought to be rewarding this membership, who stuck by Boeing during hard times and took less. In 2005, we didn't take wage increases to keep Boeing going when the order books were low. They took less for two contracts. They hung in there. They still delivered every time, on time.

This ought to be the time when the company says, "You know what, let's have a good contract, move on, go kick Airbus' butt together." Instead, they choose now as the time to attack these same people and their families who have stuck by them for years. That's not the American way.

DO YOU think some of the reason the union is taking a strong position now has to do with maybe some of the mistakes of the past? You mentioned earlier that the 2002 contract which opened the door for more outsourcing.

YOU'VE GOT to remember in 2002 the company used scare tactics. We didn't get the [two-thirds] majority to strike, which is what we needed. We got the majority to reject it. Damn near two-thirds rejected that contract.

The thing is, you had the CEO at the time intimidating people. He had several hundred layoff notices out, and he said, "I'm putting out thousands more. So if you guys vote to strike you'll lose your severance package and you won't be coming back." They got that under duress--severe duress. That's why they got it.

So over this period of time, our members have come to realize now that they see Boeing moving in suppliers. [They say] "You know what, we probably did make a mistake in 2002, and now is the time to say enough is enough. Commit to us."

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