Every few years, Boeing employees strike and they and management heave millions into the bonfire. The net effect is to weaken the enterprise that feeds them both.
ONE cheer for Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. You have a tentative deal. Finally. After 52 days. It’s a good thing, but pardon us if we think there is a better way to build airplanes.
The company and the union had an argument. Lots of companies are unionized around here, including our own, and all of them have arguments. Nobody else has a strike every three years.
Nor do they have strikes that cause this much economic damage to the public. An analyst estimates that the strike cost Boeing $2 billion. He didn’t bother to estimate what it cost the workers or the community.
What did the two sides fight about? Not money. The big issue was management’s right to hire a contractor to deliver assembled parts into plants. On the 787 line, a contractor delivers assembled parts to the line, where union members install them. The union let this stand. The company agreed that on other airplane lines, the contractors will have to deliver the parts to the plant, but that Boeing employees will take them to the line.
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This was worth burning up how many billion dollars?
The union leaders are bound to say it was worth it. They portray the battle as right versus wrong, and crucial to the survival of the union, rather than being about how much.
You could follow their thought in the statement by the union president that the fight was against “corporate America.” Or in the digital meter on the union Web site, adding up the financial damage to Boeing, as if it were a badge of pride. At one point Monday it showed a figure of $5,163,907,037.
Management, for its part, pushed the union toward a strike by making demands it knew were impossible, then pulled them off the table at the last minute. Like the union, management also argued that its stand was about right versus wrong, in its case about its right to manage the flow of work.
It was an issue of life and death, management said, except that it apparently wasn’t, because in the end it was about where the contractor should drop off the assembled aircraft parts.
Imagine a foreigner, unused to our exotic industrial ways. How would you explain the sense of it? Every few years the airplane people stop work, each side heaving millions into the bonfire, declaring a matter of high principle. Then they cut a deal they could have had all along. Each declares its principles upheld, though the net effect is to weaken the enterprise that feeds them both.