When the union at Boeing rejected the company’s contract offer in November, Boeing began sending out the word that it was ready to shut down its Washington state operation, lay off thousands of workers and decimate a local economy — all because it could not have its way with the machinists.
Huntsville was one of the more than 50 sites in 22 states Boeing management mentioned as a possible new location. As expected, Alabama officials excitedly put together a package of incentives to lure the company to the Tennessee valley.
Then the machinists voted again and narrowly approved the contract that Boeing presented them. Alabama’s bubble burst. It makes us suspicious that the manufacturing giant might have been using the threat to move as a club to bash the machinist union into submission.
Granted, it is not unheard of for a company to use the threat of closure to control its employees. Cotton mills throughout the South used that union-busting tactic time and again. It worked then, and it works now. Even Gov. Robert Bentley admitted that Boeing used Alabama “to some extent” as a weapon in its anti-union arsenal.
Giving Boeing even more leverage was that, in addition to moving, the company would relocate in a right-to-work state that it had earlier bashed as a place with an inexperienced and likely untrainable workforce, a sub-par infrastructure and other serious issues. To move was one thing. To move to Alabama was quite another.
However, other companies had made similar moves, set up shop here and done well, so Boeing had to at least consider Alabama’s offer — or at least let the union think it was.
And to make Boeing’s threat credible, the offer had to be a good one.
To bring Boeing’s competitor, Airbus, to south Alabama, the state provided tax breaks, plus road-and-site improvements, building costs, working training and other incentives to the tune of $160 million. Surely the state’s offer to Boeing was as good, or better.
Gov. Bentley said he was disappointed, but that industrial recruiters had learned from the process. It would be good if the governor would release a copy of what the state offered so Alabamians could see what we put on the table, see what Boeing rejected, and learn from the process, as well.