Boeing’s top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., a pillar of its inner leadership circle, on Tuesday launched an unusual attack on the company’s engineering union and its executive director, Ray Goforth.
“Ray Goforth has a pattern: The problem is that he looks at Boeing (management) and we are breathing in and out. That annoys him. We can’t do anything right,” said senior vice president Tim Keating.
The remarks, on the sidelines of Gov. Jay Inslee’s annual aerospace summit in Everett, came the day after Boeing announced it will eliminate 2,000 defense-side engineering jobs in the Puget Sound region and move the work to the Midwest.
Keating complained in an interview about Goforth’s “toxic remarks” concerning the job shifts.
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“Everything Boeing does is not for nefarious reasons,” Keating said, adding that “business realities” necessitated the move.
He said the union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), has been unwilling to “give us the benefit of the doubt or at least come in and have conversations.”
“The SPEEA leadership has decided to disengage,” Keating said. “They would rather stand in the background and criticize than sit down and talk about how we can make things better. (Goforth) does not want that.”
Goforth said Tuesday that SPEEA officials had met with Boeing executives earlier in the day to discuss the defense job cuts. He called Keating’s personal remarks a “weird attack.”
He said that since last year’s contentious contract talks ended, the union has filed a series of unfair-labor-practice complaints and an age-discrimination charge against management, which he said “are not the ingredients for a happy ongoing relationship.”
“But to the extent people are taking things personally, they should stop doing so,” Goforth said.
In his public keynote speech at the aerospace summit, Keating urged understanding of Boeing’s competitive position and insisted that the jet maker — despite news like the defense job cuts — is committed to long-term investment and job growth in the state.
He spoke eloquently of Boeing’s “deep roots in this Northwest corner of America” as the company approaches the 100th anniversary in 2016 of its founding here.
He said Boeing is investing billions of dollars to build the 777X and 737 MAX jets here. And he promised that Boeing will use that ongoing expansion to minimize the impact of the defense cuts.
Keating said that despite the geographic diversification of Boeing’s operations in recent years, it has 30,000 more employees in Washington state today than it had a decade ago.
And Washington state’s share of the Boeing workforce has grown from about one- third 10 years ago to nearly one-half today.
At a private luncheon with local government officials before his presentation, according to people who were present, Keating added some cold steel to that warm message with a personal attack on the SPEEA leader — which he then repeated in the interview after his speech.
“Mr. Goforth really should spend more time trying to have conversations than trying to stir up trouble for a company that employs his union members,” Keating said in the interview. “I feel very sorry for him.”
The last SPEEA contract talks ended badly for the union in early 2013 with a split in the vote when members who are engineers approved the contract and those classified as technical staff initially turned it down.
Since then Boeing has announced a series of shifts of engineering work out of the Puget Sound region, affecting a total of more than 6,000 local jobs.
Leon Grunberg, co-author of “Turbulence,” a 2010 book that surveyed the attitudes of Boeing union members, said the public vitriol from Keating suggests management feels the union is weak and vulnerable.
Based on his conversations with SPEEA members, Grunberg said, “significant numbers” are very pessimistic about the union’s ability to stand up to management — “understandably so, given how recent negotiations have worked out.”
“Boeing obviously feels in a fairly strong position,” Grunberg said. “They’ve got them where they want them and are playing hardball.”
SPEEA spokesman Bill Dugovich said Boeing’s leadership has been pointed in its private denunciations of Goforth.
He said the Boeing executives in the meeting with union officials Tuesday morning also chose to attack the union leader, who was absent due to illness.
“We haven’t heard a public attack like (Keating’s) before, but we’ve heard it through back channels,” said Dugovich.
Keating said that in contrast to the current poisonous relationship with SPEEA, Boeing now has a better working arrangement with the much bigger Machinists union.
Despite the bad feelings engendered by the 777X site-selection saga last year that led to the freezing of the Machinists’ pensions, Keating said “there is a trust factor there” that’s absent with SPEEA.
Jon Holden, president of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) district 751, said he’s met Keating only once, briefly.
He said the IAM is indeed working with Boeing where it can, on issues like lobbying Congress on the Export-Import Bank or state authorities on water pollution rules that impact Boeing.
But Holden added that “morale is close to an all-time low and we’re very concerned about the direction things are going.”
“When thousands of jobs, whether SPEEA or IAM, are being sent out of state, that could have a huge negative impact,” Holden said.
SPEEA’s contract expires in 2016 and ordinarily negotiations would begin late in 2015.
Is Boeing still open to talking with Goforth and SPEEA?
“Of course we are,” Keating said. “I don’t want to wait until 2016. Let’s go early. Let’s have a conversation.”
Seizing on that one positive note, Goforth responded, “Deal!”
“I think it’s fantastic that Mr. Keating wants to start working on our problems,” he added.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org