Special iMail ─
September 9, 2002
IP Buffenbarger on Boeing Talks Collapse
Saturday, September 7, 2002
Yesterday was payday. For the 25,000 Machinists at Boeing, it might have been their last payday for quite a while.
Next Friday is the payday the Boeing Company had hoped to avoid. They had hoped the IAM would be on strike this week, next week, the week after that, and for months to come.
Boeing wanted us to strike. Each week, a strike saves the Boeing Company 28.1 million dollars in payroll costs. Each month, a strike saves them 112.5 million dollars.
And if IAM members were out for four months, Boeing would shed crocodile tears while pocketing 450 million dollars – money that could cover up their losses in their financing and leasing businesses.
But IAM members and their families would feel that 28 million in lost paychecks each week. They would feel it big time.
In Portland, almost 1.1 million dollars a week would vanish. In Wichita, over 5.6 million would disappear. In the Puget Sound region, nearly 21.4 million dollars would be erased, erased each week.
And that’s just the direct payroll deposits. There’s a 4 to 1 multiplier effect – each Boeing job creates four jobs in the community. So the loss of those IAM member paychecks would send jobs throughout the community tumbling down like dominoes.
I was deeply conscious of the economic hardships a strike would cause, particularly a strike provoked by Boeing, itself.
And I knew that the company’s “last, best and final” offer was none of the above.
It was not the “last” offer – that was demonstrated in discussions this week with the Federal mediator.
It sure was not their “best” offer – each day we saw a bit of improvement, an ever so slight movement away from the brinkmanship displayed in Seattle.
And it damn sure wasn’t their “final” offer – despite what they said to the press.
Boeing’s “last, best and final” offer was just a mantra, a statement they keep saying over and over and over again. But repetition did not make it true.
And to go out on strike just because the company wanted us to strike without first trying another avenue made absolutely no sense.
I have a responsibility to protect you and your families from a company’s irresponsible and irrational negotiating ploys.
When the federal mediator requested us to extend the contract for 30 days and come to Washington for talks, I thought the request both reasonable and rational.
I also knew that for those talks to succeed – for us to come up with a contract we might actually ratify – we needed to take some drastic steps. I did not want the atmospherics to interfere with the hard work that lay ahead.
That is why I ordered the ballot boxes to be sealed and the ballots to remain locked away and uncounted. I wanted to give our negotiating team – and Boeing’s team – every chance to reach the real deal.
Counting those ballots and releasing those results would have poisoned the atmosphere needlessly. And it would have given the Boeing Company a double win and IAM members a double whammy.
Had we counted those ballots, Boeing would have had the strike they sought and/or the substandard contract they proffered. Neither was in our members’ best interest.
But there are those who think they know it all, or who may think their union made a mistake. They’re entitled to their opinions. But I have a responsibility to all our members to make sure they get the best contract possible and to abide by the laws of our land.
After a week of mediated talks, your union and Federal mediators fully expected a breakthrough. All the signs were there. All the right folks had their say. A framework for a new agreement existed. All that was required for a real deal was willingness on the part of Boeing to live up to its oral commitments and to reduce those commitments to writing.
The talks that could have reduced those commitments to contract language dissolved in a way none of us could have anticipated. At the eleventh hour last night, the Boeing Company’s lead negotiator inexplicably went back to his mantra – ‘we already gave you our last best and final offer on job security, health care and pensions.’
The old broken record was why these talks broke down.
So now we will do it the hard way. We will schedule votes in Portland, Wichita and the Puget Sound region as soon as practical.
We will take their “last, best and final” offer that we know for a fact was none of the above. We will tell our members where Boeing had agreed to make changes, and what changes the IAM negotiators had proffered. And we will let the membership decide if the company’s “firm, firm, firm” offer should be rejected.
Let’s make certain everyone understands this point: Boeing left money on the table when the talks broke down. Boeing, in principle, had agreed to an improved contract, a contract that provided IAM members with the wages and benefits they deserve.
It is indeed unfortunate that they did not have the right principals at the table to match their agreements in principle. But that is Boeing’s problem.
In Washington, there is an old saying “no one should ever see the law or sausage made” because both are often stomach churning processes.
Contract negotiations are a lot like watching the law being made. Dueling press conferences, lots of public posturing and an enormous amount of uncertainty because the cameras seldom go into the committee rooms.
This process isn’t pretty. It never is. Last night it got downright ugly.
So we will vote Boeing’s “last, best and final” offer. And we will ask you to reject it, absolutely certain in the knowledge that a better one was – and is – available to you. We will ask you to give your negotiating team a resounding two-thirds strike authorization vote to strengthen their hand when Boeing is ready to resume talks, serious talks.
It’s the hard way. It’s the old way. And obviously, it’s the only way Boeing understands.
With patience and perseverance, we will prevail. We will win the contract you so richly deserve.
Meanwhile, it is ever more important that IAM members practice union solidarity like we have done before and demonstrate strength on the shop floor and in the communities we care so much about.