Whatever Happened To That Boeing Negotiation?

by drjim on October 2, 2008

Boeing Workers Are On Strike And Everything Is Shut Down

Boeing Workers Are On Strike And Everything Is Shut Down

We’ve talked before about the labor negotiatons and the strike that is happening at Boeing. Since we last talked, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers has gone out on strike against Boeing. This has caused Boeing’s commercial airplane factories to be idled for over three weeks so far. Probably what’s even more important here is that this strike is starting to show signs that it could turn into a protracted standoff. Where’s a good negotiator when you need one?

There appear to be two major issues on the table right now: job security and rising health care costs. Both sides seem to feel that if they are the first to suggest a resumption of negotiations, then the other side will believe that they blinked and will negotiate from that position. The end result of all of this is what we’ve seen in other negotiating situations: the party that hurts the most will be the party that requests to resume negotiations. The strikers will start to feel the pinch from their lost paychecks soon and Boeing is rumored to be losing $100M per day of the strike. Oh, and Boeing has the extra problem that their suppliers are going to start to get skittish when they can’t deliver and can’t get paid.

Federal negotiators have become involved (that’s where the negotiators are!). The union has presented a long list of items that they say must be addressed before they would be willing to accept a new contract. Boeing is trying get the union to shorten the list before they will agree to participate in the negotiations.

Doug Kight is the lead negotiator on the Boeing side. What’s interesting is that Doug is the head of HR and as been so for the past two years. Before that he was a lawyer. Hmm, that’s all good stuff, but how good of a negotiator do you think he is? More importantly, has he been involved in major labor negotiations before?

Folks close to the strike believe that it could last 45 days or more. The workers have missed one paycheck so far and the union has started distributing strike pay of $150 / week per member. Meanwhile, suppliers are starting to furlow their workers in order to not create too much of a backlog of parts.

So negotiators what needs to happen here? First, the two sides definitely need to get back together and start talking. It really doesn’t matter what they talk about, just start talking. Next, they need to find some common ground. If the union has been able to create a long list of demands, then that’s the place to start. Boeing needs to agree to some minor issues and push back on others. This will get the ball rolling. They’ll encounter big issues that can’t be solved right now, but that’s ok – put them off to the side. Eventually all that will be left will be the big issues. Perhaps everyone can agree to go back to work while these are worked on? If not, then both sides need to be willing to give in some. Boeing won’t be able to get all of the health costs that they want to push to the workers to be agreed to. However, they can probably get the workers to take up some of the costs. Boeing needs to find ways to keep its workers healthier so that their health costs go down due to lifestyle changes. Boeing can probably get permission to allow some suppliers to get closer to the production line. However, they aren’t going to get everything that they are asking for. The workers will have to give a little, but not too much. The real question is just how long it’s going to take before both sides can get here…?

What do you think that Doug Kight should do? Do you think that Boeing or the strikers should make the first offer to go back to the negotiating table? How do you think that whomever makes the suggestion can not appear to be weak? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.

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