October 7, 2009 in Business

Gregoire says she’s on top of Boeing dispute

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Award

Lighthouse for the Blind Inc. was awarded the Aerospace Company of the Year award by Gov. Chris Gregoire. Lighthouse added its first aerospace worker to its Spokane workforce. There are 75 in Seattle.

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she talks daily with Boeing Co. and International Association of Machinists officials, but she remained mum about her efforts to ease the tension between the two sides with a decision on a second 787 airplane production line imminent.

Gregoire and other state leaders have said the company and union have asked them to stay out of discussions seeking ways to avoid work stoppages like the two-month strike last fall that cost Boeing at least $2 billion. Without an agreement, government and business leaders fear Boeing will decide to take the second 787 production line, and its 700 to 900 jobs, to South Carolina, where workers last month voted to leave the union.

A decision from Boeing could come this month.

Gregoire said she has not been hands-off. “I’m on the phone every day,” she said, but added that a resolution is up to Boeing and the Machinists.

Gregoire was in Spokane for an Aerospace Summit examining the challenges the industry in Washington faces as more companies in more nations introduce more planes to compete with long-time leader Boeing. Labor relations, workforce training and the costs of the state’s unemployment and worker compensation programs figured in almost every presentation.

State Sen. Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, criticized Gregoire’s administration for proposing a $117 million increase in worker comp premiums when, according to at least one analysis, Washington already rates poorly on unemployment and compensation costs.

Democrats, she added, have not ruled out tax increases to close an expanding budget gap.

“It is a travesty that Boeing has been forced into the position where it must consider an alternative to Washington,” Holmquist said. “This never should have happened.”

But Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said Boeing and the Machinists are equally at fault for the rancor that has characterized their recent relationship.

Boeing comments heralding the union de-certification vote in South Carolina were a “stupid” provocation of the 25,000 Washington Machinists, he said.

The Machinists, he said, have gone overboard in attacks on Boeing’s board of directors.

“Boeing and the Machinists are married,” Reardon said. “Divorce, in my opinion, is not an option.”

He said state leaders, despite requests by the company and union, must intervene in what has become too emotional a confrontation.

“I will not butt out,” said Reardon, who lives in Everett, home of Boeing’s biggest factory. Snohomish County donated a building for a Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center.

Linda Lanham, executive director of the Aerospace Futures Alliance, said training programs in Washington, though excellent, are too fragmented. No one campus can afford the expensive equipment necessary for a state-of-the-art center, she said.

The state will fall behind states like Texas, Kansas, and the Carolinas if it cannot train replacements for the 4,000 to 5,000 workers who will be retiring over the next five years, she said.

Alliance Vice President Todd Woodard noted Spokane Community College is moving its training program to Spokane International Airport from Felts Field in order to bring its program’s 120 students closer to Cascade Aerospace, Absolute Aviation and other companies among the 80 in the Inland Northwest involved in aerospace.


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