Gregoire, Machinists discuss future of aerospace

RENTON — Washington state needs to train more aerospace workers and improve its transportation system, Machinists Union members told Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The governor agreed.

“Whatever we do today — great. Tomorrow we have to do something better,” Gregoire said. “We know what the competition’s like.”

Gregoire had lunch at Machinists Union District Lodge 751‘s Renton Union Hall on June 20 with nine union members — most of them union stewards at Boeing’s Renton plant — and with Alex Pietsch, the recently appointed director of the Governor’s Office of Aerospace. District 751 Secretary/Treasurer Susan Palmer hosted the lunch.

Gregoire and Pietsch had spent the morning visiting aerospace sites in Renton. The governor got a lesson in drilling holes and bucking rivets at Renton Technical College before taking a tour of Boeing’s 737 final assembly building.

Training was a major topic of discussion with the Machinists.

Boeing “needs people bad,” said Joe Ferazza, who works in Renton. It’s not just to handle the new higher delivery rates, added Rod Sorenson: The industry also needs to replace an entire generation of workers who, like him, are nearing retirement.

Gregoire told the Machinists that, as governor, she has funneled federal training dollars into improving aerospace worker training at places like Renton Tech.

“It was to buy the most-recent equipment,” Gregoire said. Too many students had graduated and gone to work at Boeing or a supplier only to find the equipment they were assigned to work on “wasn’t what I trained on.”

Today, 24 of the state’s 34 community and technical colleges are offering aerospace worker training, the governor said. The classes are tailored to the job requirements of Boeing and its industry partners, she said. “Every time we do something, we go to the company or the suppliers and say, ‘What do you need?'”

On transportation, Washington faces challenges in every part of the state — not the least of which are the choke points created by Puget Sound and Lake Washington that make getting through Seattle such a hard slog. “The geography is what it is,” Gregoire said.

The Machinists suggested mass transit options and more van pools. Hundreds of people are on waiting lists for Boeing van pools, said union steward John Lopez III.

Many of those ideas would have to be implemented by city or county governments, not the state, Gregoire said. She told the Machinists she had proposed a gas tax increase to pay for more transportation improvements, but the Legislature rejected it.

Gregoire said she and Pietsch are focused on ensuring Boeing’s next major airplane project — the 777-X, an overhaul of current-model 777s — is built primarily, if not entirely, here in Washington.

That includes the wings, Gregoire said. Boeing is said to favor composite wings for the 777-X, and logic would dictate that because of their size and complexity, Boeing would want them to be fabricated close to the final assembly site.

“They wouldn’t want to put them on a train or highway,” Pietsch said — and they’d be too big to fly in the Dreamlifters, like a 787 wing.

But whether Boeing wants to build them in-house or have a supplier do it, Gregoire said she’s taking no chances. She’s going to London for the Farnborough Air Show in July to meet with executives from Boeing and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries — which fabricates 787 wings — to discuss what it will take to get the new 777’s wings made in Washington.

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents some 32,000 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In December, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Puget Sound.

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  1. […] A lunch meeting between Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire and Machinists Union members in Renton, where they discussed the future of the state’s aerospace industry; […]

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