Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Boeing Strike Highlights Waning Job Security

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Boeing Strike Highlights Waning Job Security

Article excerpt

A STRIKE by production workers at the Boeing Company is becoming the latest major test of labor-union strength in America.

How the 18-day-old strike plays out will not only affect the competitiveness of the world's leading aerospace company, analysts say, but it also will influence collective bargaining at other industrial firms.

"This has significance for all of manufacturing" in the United States, says Harley Shaiken, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.

At picket lines in Washington State and Wichita, Kan., 32,500 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - roughly one-third of Boeing's work force - are on strike.

Job security is a central issue.

"This is a defining issue for labor, and really it's a broader issue for the US economy," Professor Shaiken says. At stake is "how the US competes in global markets ... whether it's based on ... skills at home or cheaper labor abroad."

Few workers criticize Boeing for making "offset" deals in which parts are bought from a foreign nation as an incentive for that nation's airlines to buy Boeing airplanes. But Machinists spokeswoman Connie Kelliher says such deals account for only a fraction of Boeing's outsourcing. Already more than half the value of Boeing planes comes from outside the company, she says, and that proportion appears to be headed upward.

The union this week requested the Clinton administration to stop China from forcing US firms to send jobs and technologies to China in exchange for buying US-made aircraft.

Some experts say American corporations should establish "high-performance work organizations," where workers become more innovative, skilled, and productive in return for a reasonable degree of job security.

Others respond that even with higher-value contributions from workers, job security is an unrealistic expectation amid fierce global competition. That competition has caused a wave of corporate downsizing - one reason unions have waned in recent years. …

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