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Machinists reach tentative deal with Boeing

By Sam Hananel

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 2:15 a.m. MST

Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University, said the union seems to have used the South Carolina dispute as leverage to guarantee other unionized jobs in the Seattle area, but on a different plane.

"I think the NLRB will be very happy to get this case off the table," Chaison said. "This was probably the most controversial thing the NLRB has done in two or three decades."

The labor board brought its lawsuit at the request of the union, so if the union no longer has a dispute, the board likely would stop pursuing the case.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and the state's congressional delegation had expressed outrage at the NLRB lawsuit, saying it threatened thousands of jobs and millions of dollars invested in the new Boeing facility in Charleston.

Haley said called the tentative deal a win for Boeing.

"Finally, today's actions confirm two things we've said all along: the NLRB is nothing more than a rogue agency run by the president's union backers; and that when the feds attack a company in South Carolina they can expect us to fight back, and expect us to win," Haley said in a prepared statement.

Wroblewski was flanked by about two dozen union leaders at the Machinists hall in Seattle as he announced the deal. He said it came after six weeks of secret talks that began with an overture from Boeing management, and he called the job security offered by the deal unprecedented.

Union members in Washington, Oregon and Kansas are scheduled to vote Dec. 7 on the tentative agreement. It calls for annual wage increases of 2 percent, cost-of-living adjustments, an incentive program intended to pay bonuses between 2 percent and 4 percent, a ratification bonus of $5,000 for each member, and improvements in the pension program. But it also would raise workers' share of health costs.

Boeing is building its new 787 in Washington state, but opened a second — non-union — assembly line in Charleston. The NLRB complaint arose because it said Boeing opened the second plant to avoid legal union strikes in Washington.

Boeing appeared to be considering a similar move for an updated 737 it plans to build, called the 737 Max. The 737 is built in Renton, Wash., now, but Boeing said in July it was studying other locations.

Haley had insisted that GOP presidential candidates talk about the issue as they courted voters in South Carolina, the first-in-the-South primary state. Candidates slugged away at it early and often. Mitt Romney took an early swing in May as made his first pre-campaign stop and laid the blame Obama's feet.

"How in the world can the president justify the federal government taking power from South Carolina and not allowing South Carolina to compete on a fair and level playing field," Romney said. "It's simply inexcusable."

South Carolina's unemployment rate — 10.5 percent in October — has been among the highest in the nation. The Boeing issue gave presidential hopefuls room to talk about something other than that in a state the GOP has firmly controlled since 2002.

Hananel reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Joshua Freed in Minneapolis and Jim Davenport in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report

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