I am very pleased to say that I am a subscriber of the only Seattle newspaper still in print – the Seattle Times. This newspaper writes and publishes varying opinions on local and global issues – even when one journalist disagrees with his or her fellow journalists or – dare I say – the Editors of the paper. A timely example of freedom of the press was displayed during the showdown between the aerospace machinists unions representing Puget Sound Boeing machinists (blue collar workers) and the higher-up Boeing management who replaced Seattle with Chicago as their ivory tower home base in the year 2001.
Washington State Governor, Jay Inslee, asked for – and received – a special legislative session to present a bill that would award Boeing with delightful tax incentives to entice the company to continue the practice of building their airplanes in the greater Seattle area, a/k/a the Puget Sound region. This bill was passed but was contingent on the machinists agreeing to an extension of their current union contract period from 2016 to the year 2024. Additionally, the newly revised contract would not come close to resembling the current contract that both the machinists and the Boeing executives agreed upon when signed a few years back. If the union membership would vote “Yes” on this newly devised contract, Boeing would keep the 777X in Washington forever more. If the machinists voted “No” on the contract, Boeing leadership would approach other non-local Boeing sites – those not in Washington State. Now why would this Washington business want to give their work to another state’s economy? It’s all about the unions, baby.
Boeing leadership, and the major shareholders of Boeing stock, are sick and tired of machinists and engineers caring about – and fighting for – their rights regarding employee benefits. Shifting work to non-union locations means that the company doesn’t have to deal with the petty demands of their dedicated workers who are just trying to make a decent living now, while building a decent retirement for later. One of the major take-aways of the newly crafted contract is the cessation of the machinist’s pension plan, replacing it with a traditional 401(k) savings plan. Go ahead and say it – many people are thinking the same thing you are: “Shit! Companies all over the United States are ending employee pensions and cutting back. You SOB Boeing machinists should stop your whining and just be glad that you have a job!”
On November 11, 2013, the Seattle Times editorial staff printed their opinion of what the machinists should do: Vote Yes for the Boeing 777X. I encourage you to read the attached article because the Editors no doubt speak for a certain percentage of their readership who believed that the machinists should give up their current contract and take on a new contract – let’s call it Machinists’ ContractX. Danny Westneat’s “Squeeze play” opinion piece attached at the top of my article, speaks for a different percentage of the newspaper readership – many who work for Boeing – but also those non-Boeing people who understand that when employees are told to sacrifice and cut back on their benefits for the good of the company – everyone in the company should be a part of that sacrifice.
Let’s look at the facts and you can decide if the executives are sacrificing to the same extent as their employees. Boeing has been racking up profits with its stock exhibiting impressive numbers. When the markets closed on Monday, November 18th, the stock price was $138.36 per share. “If Boeing’s CEO, Jim McNerney, retires right now, he will get $265,575 a month. That’s not a misprint: The man presiding over a drive to slash retirement for his own workers, and for stiffs in the rest of America, stands to glide out on a company pension that pays a quarter-million dollars per month.” See Anguish many of us understand, by Danny Westneat dated 11/9/2013.
At play here are many emotions and opinions – both in the newsroom and in our living rooms. On the one hand, people are saying that the machinists ruined it for Washington State by not agreeing to replace their current contract in 2016 with the hastily revised one. This new contract came about as a result of the Governor and his legislators getting into bed with the Boeing executives and some of the machinist union leaders, to discuss in private what they felt was best for their employees. As a result, the squeeze was indeed put on the machinists and now they are being blamed for Boeing’s decision to look elsewhere for airplane production that would have provided guaranteed work for current – and future – Boeing employees in the Puget Sound region.
Let’s get back to the disgruntled people who say that Boeing employees should just be glad that they have a job. Boeing employees are highly skilled workers, and historically they have been paid salary and benefits commensurate to their skills – as is the case with Boeing engineers – many of whom have been with the company for decades. All the salary and benefit details were agreed upon by Boeing management and Boeing laborers at the beginning of their current contract – the contract for which the terms don’t expire until 2016. If the machinists voted “Yes” on the newly proposed contract, they would have eight years’ worth of financial takeaways for which they weren’t prepared at the 2016 contract end.
Based on what had been legally agreed upon, these employees had been managing their present lives and gearing up for their future lives, when all of a sudden they were presented with a different financial formula than the one promised in the contract upon which they based these financial plans. Then the rug was pulled out from under them and the people pulling the rug were those who will bank monthly pension amounts of approximately $300,000 at today’s rate. Where’s the sacrifice baby? What am I missing? Don’t forget, the aforementioned amount is just the pension amount – there are many other richly held benefits held by the executives. And even if $300k per month was all the compensation each executive were to receive in retirement, that’s $3,600,000 a year. Shouldn’t that leave some sacrificial wiggle room?
But the article I set out to write is about Freedom of the Press and the wonderful ability for one newspaper to express conflicting views while still being able to retain their jobs. Newspapers and other periodicals would do well to model the Times so that the reading public can read conflicting journalistic opinions in order to arrive at their own opinions on hotly contested subject matters…
just as I have done in this article.