Funder in Focus: Boeing

Seattle Times Opinion
Historic Boeing pact will benefit more from education investment
By Jim Albaugh

Special to The Times
Dec. 15, 2011

TIME and again over the last century, we've made history at Boeing, defining the future of flight with airplanes like the 787 Dreamliner and the 747-8 Intercontinental. In my view, the landmark agreement between Boeing and members of its largest union, the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM), is equally historic. It allows us to turn the page on decades of acrimony.

When union members ratified the contract last week, nine months before the current labor agreement expired — and by a vote of 74 percent — we embarked on what IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski called "a new day" for Boeing and its unionized employees.

The impact of this agreement reaches far beyond our factories. But to secure the prosperous future we all envision, we need elected officials, industry leaders and the business community to do what Boeing and the IAM just did — to focus on what unites us rather than divides us.

First and foremost, Washington needs quality education at all levels and sustained funding to support it. Performance-based reform must be a priority so all students have an opportunity to learn and contribute. And we need to invest in programs that prepare tomorrow's workers for an economy fueled by fresh ideas and innovation.

As Boeing and the IAM found, getting to solutions requires a willingness by all parties to openly discuss not only what they want — but how they'll compromise.

Going into this fall's discussion, the company and the union understood that the way we approached negotiations in the past didn't work for anyone. So we sat down together and really listened to one another. We discussed the realities of the current business environment and we explored a broad range of issues — increased competition, rising costs of doing business, and the need for better alignment, job security and a shared destiny. As a result, we found common ground on which to build a new and mutually beneficial relationship.

The agreement increases wages and company contributions to employee pension plans. It provides more comprehensive health-care benefits at a modest cost to employees. It provides financial incentives to employees for productivity increases. And it ensures that the new 737 MAX will be built by experienced union employees in our Renton factory.

I am proud of what Boeing and the IAM have done together because it demonstrates what's possible when two sides can look to the future instead of the past. It affirms that no matter the circumstances, reasonable minds can always prevail.

I am confident that this shared sense of purpose and the stability this agreement provides will bring great benefits to our employees, our customers, our communities and our company. We're forecasting a market for 33,500 airplanes worth $4 trillion over the next 20 years. Boeing is now better prepared than ever to compete for that business — and to win.

But this is just the beginning. We now have five years to strengthen the relationship between the company and the union as we work, as one team, to get the great airplanes we build into the hands of customers eagerly waiting for them.

Through a joint council established by this contract, we will meet regularly with union leaders to build trust, work through issues and discuss how we'll respond to the marketplace. We want to hear from employees about how we can be more productive and competitive.

In similar fashion, the public and private sectors must work together and focus on how to grow instead of what to cut. We can't afford to wait for a more positive economic climate. We need to move quickly to make decisions that will affect Washington's future for generations.

Finding solutions to pressing problems in industry, in Washington state and across the nation requires commitment and collaboration. Skeptics might say it can't be done. Boeing and the IAM have just demonstrated that it can.

Jim Albaugh is president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes.

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