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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

October 9, 2008 at 5:05 PM

Boeing strike

Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Boeing machinists and supporters cheer outside a company administration building in Seattle following announcement that negotiations will resume.

Machinists should settle

Editor, The Times:

“Boeing, strikers, returning to table” [Times page one, Oct. 9] says the Machinists union is striking to maintain the jobs they still have left in the Northwest.

I think the union should settle because its members still are making a decent wage, and because the jobs could be outsourced to Illinois: There are plenty of Rust-Belt locations willing to set up a factory floor quickly.

In the 1980s, there was a company making strip-mining equipment in Danville, Ill. The union always demanded and got prevailing wages. The end result was that the company moved all but a sales office to Mississippi, where wages were lower. Nobody in the union thought it could happen. It did.

Does the International Association of Machinists really believe it can’t happen here, just because the strike is costing the company money?

— Keith Wellman, Freeland

Boeing continuing Confederate ways

Boeing spokesmen, facing the threat of a long Machinists strike, are now threatening to move production jobs to the South and turn Puget Sound into a rust belt (although aluminum and carbon fiber don’t rust).

Let’s put this into historical perspective: As far back as the 1930s, Southern senators, whose votes were crucial to the passage of FDR’s New Deal legislation, managed to exclude application of minimum-wage laws to agricultural workers and domestic workers, aka African-American workers.

By the 1950s, Southern states, in an effort to fend off unions (and the prospects of — horrors! — black union membership) had passed so-called “Right to Work” laws.

Seeking ever-cheaper labor costs, Northern manufacturers moved their plants south. Detroit’s competitors were not in Asia, but in Kentucky or Mississippi. The former Confederacy was for industrialists then what China is now.

Boeing continues to play the Southern strategy.

And isn’t it interesting that Airbus, operating in nations with much more highly unionized work forces, is Boeing’s major competitor?

— David Echols, Kirkland

Management is the problem

I write as the Machinists strike at Boeing goes into its second month.

Issues such as pay and the cost of health insurance, which impacts pay, are part of the reason for the walkout. There is however, a more significant issue at stake, which involves whether there should be input by the union members when decisions are made concerning subcontracting or outsourcing of work presently done in-house.

Of course, the obvious concern of the union members is that they have done and can do the various subsets of the final product and, to a high degree of excellence, they see wage increases on the books of little benefit if the jobs are shipped elsewhere.

There is, however, a further consideration. During the 1980s, the teachings of W. Edwards Deming, the so-called author of the “Japan (production) miracle,” had some vogue in the United States, and when implemented, were given credit for saving the Ford Motor Co. from bankruptcy.

Deming said, among other things, that the worker is not the problem; management is the problem. He taught that it was important to emphasize quality, that this was achieved by talking to the workers — the actual people who made the product — and by listening and accepting their input.

In my (long) experience in the factory, management strains mightily when workers on the line deign to offer that input, fighting it, actually in some cases to the detriment of the product. When workers, united in their union organization, make that joint effort to share in the decision-making process, seeking the goals of better products and of higher profits and, yes, consideration of community and national interests, they are seen by some as a threat to management authority and as a foe to be defeated.

The Boeing top-executive goal is to fragment production to many locations and nations, to nonunion shops to the detriment of quality; and not to actually save money, but rather to ensure sole management control without input from any people who actually have their hands on the product.

Deming must be rolling in his grave.

— Carl Schwartz, Machinists District 751 (ret.), Sammamish

Union forced workers to strike

I have many patients who work for Boeing, and recently four or five said they did not vote for, nor do they agree with, the strike but support it because they feel forced to by the union.

They are getting $150 a week strike pay, costing their company untold millions at a time when our economy can ill afford it, and they are having to change their insurance to COBRA, which they cannot afford.

I think it is time for the workers to quit being so greedy and go back to work for the good of our community, our country and themselves.

It is a shame President Bush does not step in and stop the strike for our national security and the good of our economy. I supported Bush, but I think he has become totally dysfunctional.

— Michael deBerardinis, M.D., Auburn

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