Union: We’re not out to close Charleston plant

Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 in Seattle, addresses some of the half-truths and misconceptions regarding the National Labor Relations Board’s complaint against the Boeing Co. in this open letter to workers at Boeing’s North Charleston site.

I’m writing to Boeing workers in South Carolina to address some of the issues surrounding the National Labor Relations Board complaint against the Boeing Co.

By now, you’ve probably heard a lot about the complaint. Unfortunately, most of what you have heard is wrong. Partisan politicians, particularly on the right, have seized upon the issue and are spinning it to fit their broader anti-union or anti-Obama agendas. They’re saying colorful and outrageous things that virtually guarantee they’ll get headlines or airtime.

In the process, many simple truths are being ignored.

For example, there’s a widespread perception that the NLRB is trying to shut down Boeing’s new North Charleston plant.

This is flat-out untrue. If you take just a few seconds to read for yourself – at Web sites like www.nlrb.gov — you’ll find that the lawyers at the NLRB have specifically stated that Boeing can continue to operate the North Charleston plant, no matter what the outcome of the complaint.

Instead, the NLRB seeks to require that Boeing keep the second 787 line in Everett. Today Boeing employs more than 3,300 workers in Everett on its 787 line and temporary 787 surge line. Boeing has made it clear that the surge line is only temporary until Charleston is producing airplanes and that Charleston was selected because workers here engaged in too much of what the lawyers call “collective activity.”

In Everett, this collective union activity has led to a real middle class for tens of thousands of workers who can buy a house, send their kids to college, take vacations — and not worry that they are one health crisis away from financial disaster.  Working together, as a union, we have won a decent life.

The IAM wants that decent life for every aerospace worker in America.  We’ve got nearly 10 percent “official” unemployment in our country, and there are uncounted millions more who can’t find full-time jobs. Every family knows someone who’s unemployed, and sometimes for months and months.  This isn’t right.

Personally, I think Boeing could do a lot to help. As Boeing Charleston workers know all too well, most 787 work is done overseas by foreign suppliers – suppliers who over and over again have failed to deliver, leading to nearly three years of delays and easily $10 billion in cost overruns for the Dreamliner.

Boeing knows this isn’t a good way to build airplanes. But just last month, in the Wall Street Journal, Boeing’s CEO defended it, and even threatened to move more work to places like China. You can listen to U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin from Iowa chastise Boeing’s top lawyer for making the same threat at a Congressional hearing at our website: www.iam751.org/nlrb

I’d say it’s pretty arrogant for a company that took as much as $900 million from taxpayers in your state, plus $3 billion from taxpayers in my state – plus another $19.5 billion in U.S. government contracts last year alone — to suggest it will be cutting American jobs.

Here in Seattle, Boeing executives have talked at length about their desire to bring much of the 787 work back “in-house,” to regain control of the supply chain and to ensure that the embarrassing and costly delays aren’t repeated. It would be a smart move for the company  — and a good move for America.

Much has been made about 1,000 South Carolina residents Boeing is putting to work in the new North Charleston plant. But far more American jobs would be created if Boeing brought home just a fraction of the work that has been outsourced to foreign companies, on the 787 and other programs. At the same time, it would make Boeing’s manufacturing processes more efficient – and profitable – which would benefit shareholders and customers alike.

That’s why if Boeing tries to shut down its North Charleston operations, my union will stand with the employees of South Carolina to stop it.  Because the fact is, the only one in the room suggesting that the North Charleston plant will close is Boeing itself — not the NLRB and certainly not my union.  This untruth is just one more tactic in Boeing’s long-term plan to avoid the legally protected activity of its union workers, and it’s time someone called them out.

If some of our politicians cared more about creating long term jobs and a real middle class, instead of spending their time and energy attacking federal law enforcement agencies like the NLRB, they would be urging Boeing to use more American workers.

Let me be clear on one final point: although you have chosen not to join or form your own union, the IAM supports filling your facility with work. We believe that “Made in America” should be more than a sticker we slap on once the paint is dry.

We also support your right, should you chose to do so one day, to form your own union or join an existing one. We believe every American should have the chance to stand with their fellow workers to collectively bargain for better wages and benefits, for better safety and job training and for better work hours and overtime rules.

I know that goes counter to a lot of the nonsense that gets sold as fact on the airwaves. But the truth is that this NLRB complaint against Boeing has nothing to do with “Right to Work” laws in South Carolina or any other state. If Boeing loses this NLRB case – and I am confident it will – South Carolina’s laws won’t change one bit.

What would change is the way Boeing treats its workers, in Charleston, in Puget Sound and across the country.

Today, federal laws guarantee that every worker in America has the right to join a union without fear of retaliation. That same law says you can withhold your labor – to go on strike – if that’s what it takes to get a fair contract. It’s a “Rights at Work” law.

Boeing wants to force you in Charleston to surrender that right forever, so that if you should ever decide to speak up about unsafe work conditions or unfair overtime, it can take your work away and give it to someone else.  Is that what you want for your children, to be forced to give up rights as Americans?

As I said, some 3,300 members of our union are building 787s in Everett today. By 2014, when the North Charleston plant is up and running, the jobs of at least 1,800 of them will be eliminated. Boeing’s tactic has been to pit those of you who will eventually work for the company in Charleston against those of us who for the time being are working for Boeing in the Northwest – and that’s just wrong.

We are all Americans. We are proud to build airplanes, working for America’s greatest aerospace company. We want to work hand-in-hand with Boeing, to build on our past successes, like the U.S. Air Force tanker contract award.

But we can’t stand idly by while Boeing brazenly claims it can take away the jobs and futures from people who exercise their rights as Americans by standing together to bargain for a better life.

Working together, the men and women of Boeing can ensure a prosperous future for themselves, and for their company. But if we allow Boeing and its political allies to divide us with lies and half-truths, nobody wins.

Tom Wroblewski is president and directing business representative of District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers in Seattle.

Become a fan of IAM 751 on Facebook.

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