8:45am | The Long Beach City Council has a unique opportunity when it gathers today for it's weekly public meeting.
By then, all of the Councilmembers are sure to have heard that 1,700 members of the United Aerospace Workers Local 148, otherwise known as the men and women that work the Long Beach assembly line constructing the Boeing C-17, were on strike as of 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday.
The strike follows Boeing's presentation on April 30 of what the aircraft manufacturer calls it's 'best and final' offer to the workers. In March, 95-percent of the UAW Local 158 workers voted to go out on strike if Boeing did not come up with an adequate contract offer. Just days after the current contract expired on May 2, Boeing's April 30 'best and final' offer was rejected by 79.5 percent of the workers.
Without arguing the points of the negotiations, suffice to say that both sides have their own perspectives on the 46-month Boeing contract offer.
Boeing claims that it is offering a contract that increases wages, increases pension contributions, maintains health insurance contributions for the first three years, and removes a controversial proposal that the workers believed trampled on worker seniority.
The UAW members, on the other hand, believe that the wages being offered in the company's final offer do not compensate the Long Beach workers fairly compared to other Boeing employees nationwide and that previous Long Beach contract concessions have saved the company more than enough to justify the company increasing their wage offer. The workers have also called the medical benefits portion of Boeing's offer "clearly unacceptable," and the pension portion "an insult."
So, while no new talks are scheduled between the two sides, it will remain for the two sides, not us, to argue. That is what the negotiating table is for.
However, as mentioned, the Council finds itself in an interesting situation.
Interesting because over the years, like many cities with large corporate residents, City Hall has wisely stayed clear as a body of involving itself in union issues at Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing. It is never wise to take sides in a situation that could cause the largest private employer in the city to vacate because the corporate headquarters is upset with your statements or position.
But in the current situation, that fear has been eliminated. The C-17 production line is almost certainly not going to outlive the 46-month contract time frame under consideration by both sides. Boeing also can not afford to move the line for its last couple of years of production. And, the C-17 makes so much money for the firm that shutting down the line early is also not a realistic option.
In other words, the C-17 is going to stay in Long Beach until the current orders run dry--now estimated to be sometime in 2014.
But what will be staying here, to some large degree, are the C-17 workers. Not to mention all the former Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing that long ago decided to stay.
For nearly 70 years, workers of first Douglas Aircraft, then McDonnell Douglas and now Boeing have been members of this community. In fact, Douglas employees settled entire swaths of the city's tract housing built in the 1950s and 1960s.
And now, City Hall, unfettered of the fear of losing Boeing, has the opportunity to stand up with equal support for the other member of the C-17 team -- the workers.
This is not to say that that the Council should take a side in the contract negotiations. But what could it hurt to take this moment of focus on the C-17 plant and say that we, as a city, recognize the contributions that Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing workers have made to Long Beach as a community?
It would seem the Council could easily pass a simple resolution saying that the city vis-a-vis the Council, is proud to be home to so many Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing workers, past and present.
"Hey, folks, thanks for the 70-plus years of being a part of our community. We thought it was time to give you a big pat on the back."
I believe once a year the Council declares some such day as officially "C-17 Day" in Long Beach.
If we can do it for an airplane, why not for the workers that build it?
It would be a nice gesture to those of our community that are on the picket line as well as the retirees that live among us. After all, isn't community built on the mutual appreciation and understanding of neighbors?
But, just in case the Council decides to wait until the C-17 line closes in 2014 to make such a declaration, I'm just going to go ahead and officially declare today "Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing Worker Day."
So to my former neighbor (I moved), who in 1950 with her Douglas-employed husband bought their new Long Beach tract home and who loved telling me how wonderful Long Beach was and still is and how she will never move, this "Day" is for people like you. Or my other former neighbor, who told me stories of working on projects with both Donald Douglas, Jr. and Sr., this "Day" is for you.
And if any of you know past or present Douglas/McDonnell Douglas/Boeing workers, please, give them a pat on the back.
Like the song says, "You give a little love and it all comes back to you..."