As Jon points out in the previous post, Boeing’s “no-strike clause or else” threat to its unions comes across as a bit shrill and hollow considering Washington’s reputation for having one of the most favorable business climates in the nation. I mean, “or else” Boeing will move 787 production where?
Much has been made of Boeing’s recent purchase of Vought Aircraft Industries’ Dreamliner plant in South Carolina, speculating that Boeing might leverage its investment to build a second 787 assembly line there. But this speculation ignores the reality of the deal, which is that it was only made necessary by the utter failure of Voight, like many of Boeing’s other outsourcing partners, to meet the quality and delivery standards necessary to keep the 787 project on time.
Boeing’s purchase of Vought’s facility was, in effect, an admission that Boeing’s outsourcing strategy, the “systems integrator” approach, is not working. There may be a flaw in Boeing’s overarching corporate strategy of dumping costly assets and globalizing production.
That’s right, Boeing bought the plant, responsible for assembling large sections of the 787’s fuselage, because it couldn’t rely on Vought to fix the facility’s endemic problems. Do you really think that’s a signal that Boeing is eager to entrust even more responsibility to South Carolina workers and managers when it already has a large, highly trained workforce available here?
Indeed, not only does Boeing have an ample supply of trained workers available in the Puget Sound region, it also has an assembly facility available that could be converted to 787 production with minimal capital investment and in little time. Of course, I’m referring to Boeing’s existing, 767 final assembly line in Everett.
Think about it. The 787 was always meant as a replacement for the 767, whose production has long been scheduled to be phased out one way or another. Remember, the main attraction to our region of Boeing getting the Air Force tanker contract was that it was based on the 767, and thus would keep production going at the Everett facility years beyond the model’s life as commercial passenger liner, and saving thousands of good-paying local jobs in the process. But in response to the Air Force’s obvious preference for a larger tanker, Boeing has resubmitted its bid with a tanker based on the larger 777. Win or lose, that’s a death sentence for the 767 assembly line.
But once (if) the 787 flies and Boeing swings into full production, that makes the 767’s Everett plant the obvious location for a second 787 assembly line.
Last year’s machinists strike my provide useful rhetoric for Boeing as the aerospace giant seeks concessions from legislators and labor, but even management understands that the bulk of the 787’s production woes have had little to do with local workers, and apart from the recent design flaw, have mostly stemmed from production problems from Boeing’s many out-of-state partners like Vought. In that context, what could possibly make more sense than starting a second assembly line at an existing Boeing facility with a highly-trained workforce that has proven track record of delivering quality product on time?
And if that’s not reason enough to keep 787 assembly here in the Puget Sound region, no amount of tax or labor concessions will be enough to convince Boeing management to change its mind.