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Sun., Nov. 10, 2013

Editorial: Boeing’s infrastructure push would boost jobs, economy

Boeing Co. workers who walked out on the company in 2005 and 2008 are paying the price.

This week, members of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers who assemble the company’s planes in Renton and Everett will vote on a contract containing concessions that once upon a time would have had them spitting rivets: replacement of defined-benefit pensions with retirement savings accounts funded with declining company contributions, more employee out-of-pocket medical costs, and a much slower ascent up the pay scale for new employees.

They will get a $10,000 signing bonus, and they will keep their jobs.

In return for a “yes” vote, Boeing has pledged to keep manufacturing of its 777X in Washington, potentially creating as many as 20,000 new jobs at Boeing and its suppliers. The popular aircraft is undergoing a substantial redesign that will replace aluminum wings with carbon-fiber wings like those introduced on the 787. More than 20,000 Machinists in the Puget Sound area work on the 777.

Boeing has negotiating leverage because the history of Machinist work stoppages, and fat incentives from nonunion South Carolina, resulted in the construction of a new 787 factory there. After some startup pains, the plant is working well enough to prove to company and union alike that aerospace leadership is not just about the Puget Sound area anymore.

What should be of interest in Olympia is Washington’s congested transportation system, endless permitting and inflexible regulatory apparatus.

When a span of Interstate 5 bridge fell into the Skagit River, state officials issued permits for reconstruction almost before the old span could be fished out of the water. Sure, I-5 and that bridge are critical transportation infrastructure, but many failing Washington bridges could benefit from streamlined permitting.

Boeing has also aggressively advocated moderation as the Department of Ecology prepares a long-overdue rewrite of state clean water standards.

In return for Olympia’s attention to its concerns, Boeing has committed to keeping 777X work in Washington. The state cannot afford to call Boeing’s bluff. The bluff that may be called is Gov. Jay Inslee’s assertion that Boeing needs transportation reforms as well. Members of the Republican-controlled coalition holding a majority in the Senate are unconvinced they need to fast-track a measure that would almost surely entail tax increases.

The state’s roads and bridges badly need attention. If pressure from Boeing can move the process along, good.

Republican legislators should think carefully about the opportunity to gain major support for both reforms and funding for the North Spokane Corridor freeway. Taxes that build roads are investments that pay off in job growth and a stronger economy.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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