Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

National Security, Politics Loom over Battle on Strike Washington Focuses on Mcdonnell Douglas

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

National Security, Politics Loom over Battle on Strike Washington Focuses on Mcdonnell Douglas

Article excerpt

As a government contractor, McDonnell Douglas Corp. faces a tougher battle in the machinists strike than if its customers were private.

Two particular hurdles loom in Washington, Republicans and Democrats from both sides of the labor-management divide said Wednesday:

One hurdle is politics. The White House and congressmen with close ties to labor are likely to encourage a settlement acceptable to unions. The administration has a lot of clout because most of McDonnell Douglas' business is with the government.

The other hurdle is concern about national security. The company is under intense pressure to maintain quality and on-time delivery of its military weapons. Meeting those criteria with the machinists on strike will be difficult if the strike drags on, said a Republican on the House national security panel.

As if to underscore federal contractors' political vulnerability, Rep. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., got an amendment to the defense bill unanimously adopted Wednesday by the Appropriations Committee. It would give preference to defense contractors whose work is done solely in the United States.

The amendment was in the making before the strike developed, but Durbin made it clear he and some other members of the Missouri and Illinois delegations are troubled by the outsourcing of jobs that machinists cited in voting to stop work.

Said Durbin: "One of our motivations is not only the defense of the United States but also the economy of the St. Louis area on both sides of the river."

Political Pressures

Firms hit by strikes often get some sympathy if their customers are other private companies. Federal contractors don't. They have one major customer, the government.

"Here you have a Democratic administration that is very pro-labor and is relying heavily on labor votes in an election year," said Robert Duston of Schmeltzer, Aptaker & Shepard. The Washington firm represents management in labor relations matters nationwide.

"In my opinion, McDonnell Douglas will face political pressure as the summer continues, through the Department of Defense and through the Department of Labor putting pressure on the DOD to resolve this contract."

Administration officials can urge contractors to be conciliatory without resorting to threats, he said. And officials can take such actions as refusing to extend deadlines for deliveries.

"The government . . . has the power, in awarding new contracts and extensions of existing contracts, to include labor-protective language that can vary from prevailing wage rates to provisions for termination in the event of strikes," Duston said.

While McDonnell Douglas has been successful getting contracts for military planes, it is not the only manufacturer. It can't ignore the consequences of failure to meet delivery dates or of perceived mistreatment of workers, Duston said. …

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