Workers continue Boeing shutdown, job security key issue

Boeing workers are prepared for a long strike to prevent their jobs from being outsourced as their shutdown of the nation’s largest airplane maker enters its fourth day.

Mark Blondin, the chief negotiator for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), said, “This time around, the workforce is angry enough at Boeing that they have told us they’re willing to stay out until 2009.”

Twenty-seven thousand airplane assembly workers in Washington State, Oregon and Kansas, walked off the job last Saturday after last-minute attempts by the union to reach agreement failed. 87 percent of the workforce had voted to strike.

Union leaders say that job security is the key issue, followed by wages and health care. Boeing, since 1995, has pursued a policy of hiring outside contractors in other countries to make more and more parts for its air planes.

IAM President Tom Buffenbarger said the question of job security is critical to workers. He said, “It’s time for Boeing to listen to us on this. The union just wants to be able to have a shot at making the case that our workers can do these jobs competitively before Boeing ships them out.”

Workers on the picket lines say that Boeing’s current 787 Dreamliner program is a prime example of problems resulting from the company’s attempt to outsource union jobs. The company is using outfits in Japan and Italy, among other places, to construct much of the new fuel-efficient jetliner. A union source said that when the first shipments from these countries arrived at the Boeing plant in Everett, Wash. thousands of important parts were missing. The company was then forced to ask its union workers to scramble to fix the problem so it could assemble its first few planes. The workers got the job done.

The outsoucing scheme eventually backfired, however, as the overseas companies to which Boeing had turned to do things on the cheap fell behind in their deliveries. The result is that the entire 787 program is now more than a year behind schedule.

“If Boeing had let us build that airplane in the first place, it would be in service today,” Dale Flinn, a 20-year veteran on Boeing’s 767 assembly line, told the press.

Leaders of IAM District 751 in Washington state told workers in a statement on its website that it was their strong strike vote that triggered Boeing’s request to return to the table for two extra days when the contract expired last week, “and that same strike vote will bring them back to the table at a later date. Strikes are the last resort when companies such as Boeing do not respect the workforce. Boeing lost respect, and this is one way to prove them that they need to respect you as an important ingredient to the success of this company they have been put in charge of.”