Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is working as a consultant for Boeing in its labor troubles with the Machinists union —...

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Former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt is working as a consultant for Boeing in its labor troubles with the Machinists union — a group that loyally backed the Democrat in his political career.

Gephardt said yesterday Boeing hired him to help in its negotiations leading up to what is now a 3-week-old strike by Machinists.

“Our contract, our working relationship, is with Boeing,” the Missouri Democrat said.

“I have a longstanding relationship with the Machinists and I can be somewhat of an intermediary, an honest broker to find answers.”

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The union welcomes his involvement.

Gephardt retired from a 28-year career in the House last year, following his second run for the Democratic presidential nomination. He opened his own lobbying firm and spends about half his time with the prominent law and lobbying firm, DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, now one of the world’s largest after mergers with other firms.

The firm has a Seattle office with long ties to Boeing. Former U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, R-Bellevue, went to DLA Piper in March after retiring from the House last year.

She said the firm’s real-estate division helped Boeing move its corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago.

Gephardt said most of his work has been done by telephone, and that the amount of time he spends on Boeing labor issues has varied during the phases of the dispute.

“Neither side wants this strike to occur, and they both want to get past it and get back to making airplanes,” he said.

A Boeing spokesman said Gephardt is one of many advisers the company uses.

“He is well-respected in business circles and brings a valuable perspective to labor-management relations,” said spokesman Chaz Bickers.

Earlier this year, Gephardt was hired by Onex, the Canadian firm that bought Boeing’s commercial-airplane manufacturing plants in Wichita, Kan., and Tulsa, Okla. He helped Onex restart talks with unions unhappy with concessions the company wanted from the workers.

In July, Gephardt was named to the board of the company, which changed its name to Spirit Aerosystems.

The International Association of Machinists (IAM), District 751 voted Sept. 1 to go on strike over pension disputes and other issues. The strike involves 18,300 workers in Boeing’s commercial-airplanes division.

The union’s political director, Linda Lanham, said she was glad Gephardt was brought in by Boeing.

“He has always been an advocate for workers, unquestionably,” she said. “He is a man who can see it from both sides of the fence, and I think that’s what we need, someone who can kind of come to the middle.”

The Machinists union has a long relationship with Gephardt. In the early 1990s, he said, he helped settle a labor dispute in his hometown of St. Louis when Machinists struck the former McDonnell Douglas plant, now part of Boeing’s operations.

The union was a consistent political backer as Gephardt moved up in the House Democratic leadership. Last year, the union endorsed his unsuccessful run for president.

In addition to his work with DLA Piper, Gephardt spends close to half his time as a consultant to Goldman Sachs, the New York investment bank.

He remains a careful watcher of the U.S. labor movement in America and says the recent split in the AFL-CIO will lead to stronger union leadership in the long run.

“Disintegration and disorganization can be a creative process,” he said.

He said labor faces the same sorts of challenges as American businesses trying to adapt to a global economy.

Gephardt will be in Seattle Oct. 11 when he and Dunn co-host a DLA Piper event designed to boost the firm’s presence in Seattle. In addition to Boeing, the firm does work for Starbucks, REI and other area companies.

Both Gephardt and Dunn are prohibited from lobbying Congress until Jan. 2. On that day, Dunn said, she will go to Capitol Hill in her new professional capacity.

“I miss my friends,” she said. “That’s the only thing I miss.”

David Postman: 360-943-9882 or