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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

June 26, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Boeing, for better and worse

I gave the opening speech this morning at the Association of Labor Relations Agencies meeting at the Seattle Hilton. Among the things I said was that it was unclear whether the new International Association of Machinists contract with Boeing was a pathbreaking way for a union to be relevant in the 21st century, or, as critics have said, was a stealth way to break the union. Time will tell.

But it says much about our region that the co-sponsors of tonight’s reception for the group are Boeing, the machinists and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (“No Nerds, No Birds). For better and for worse, Boeing remains the single most critical element of the Puget Sound economy. It and its unions can even come together to help out the convention of these mediators.

This is also the between-the-lines message of the speech Wednesday night by Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief Ray Conner. I have no doubt that he bleeds Boeing blue and Washington green and we’re fortunate to have him as an advocate for the state in the executive deliberations in Chicago.

As Conner said, Boeing is investing here and the state remains critical to the company. It operates in a cyclical industry, so hefty profits now can be helpful when the rainy days come. Also, it is only a matter of time before China, and perhaps other countries, break into the duopoly of Boeing and Airbus.

Yes, Chicago would have more credibility if so much of the corporate treasury was not going to high executive compensation, and if it didn’t use places such as South Carolina as a stick to get even more concessions from Washington state. Wringing costs and amassing cash isn’t just to be competitive, but to reward Wall Street on a level that didn’t exist when America was building its 20th century industrial might. The explanation of the brain drain moving engineering jobs out of state is not entirely convincing. But such is the power of giant corporations in America today.

Overall, having a major Boeing presence still outweighs the costs. We’re in it together, even if the next demand from Chicago won’t be long in arriving.

Thursday Reading: Citizen Bezos | New York Review of Books

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Barclays dark pool fraud?

Dark pools and shadow banking

There the dragons be

Comments | More in Aerospace/Boeing

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