It says much for the deterioration in Boeing’s labour relations in its home state that its machinists have voted 67% against losing their pensions in order to retain work on the upgraded 777-X series of ‘super twin’ jets in Washington.
The dispute is one that brings the harsh ideological and income divides of America today into raw focus for those living in countries where a secure pension is considered an inviolate reward for years of loyalty to a company.
As this Reuters story makes clear, the Boeing workers will retire with their pensions intact, but the airliner that promises to bring more growth to their trade in their state, and indeed to their children, if they had so chosen, is set to be built elsewhere.
This is, in America, much more a story about what is happening in its society, with the collapse of its middle class, than it is about Boeing.
There is little doubt that the newest line of the highly successful 777 family, due in service between late 2019 or 2021 depending on who you believe, will soar.
Demand for higher technology, more fuel efficient and larger-than-now twin engined jets makes a success assured, provided Boeing deliveries on build quality and design excellence. As it does for the only competitor in sight, the Airbus A350 family, with analysts waiting for the European rival to do the obvious, and add to that line up with a larger capacity version as big as the proposed 400 seat plus 777-9. (Boeing uses the X suffix for models that have not yet been given final approval to procede, which could happen next week when more orders for its latest jets are announced as widely tipped at the Dubai Air Show.)
Expect considerable discussion in the US media as to whether Boeing might have internally wished for this outcome for ideological anti-labour reasons, and where how much of the design rather than fabrication work will ultimately take place. Boeing’s experience of offshore design inputs in the 747-8s and 787s has not been completely encouraging.
But the issues being discussed in the US are far from having played themselves out. For Boeing’s customers, it will be a case of hoping that these issues will not adversely impact the delivery of this new family of 777s.