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Professor: Boeing Wants 'Amazing Concessions' from Machinists

Ashley Gross
Boeing's 777 assembly line in Everett

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. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.