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Gary Horton: There goes retirement security

Posted: January 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 8, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Boeing, a 100-year-old American company, brings pride to most Americans as a masthead of American ingenuity and prowess.

Boeing remains the formidable face of American engineering and manufacturing power spanning the globe. Boeing manufactures advanced jetliners that successfully compete against its only other real competitor, Europe’s Airbus.

Now, despite record profits and orders, Boeing has cried “poor” and has successfully extorted American taxpayers and dedicated Boeing workers, alike.

Airbus, manufactured in socialized France and England, employs workers enjoying the very best perks, job security, and retirement benefits in the world.

Despite generous employee compensation, Airbus nevertheless successfully competes head-to-head with Boeing, having turned jetliner competition into a true duopoly.

But Airbus is in Europe and this is America, and in America we support corporations above people, as we increasingly self-fund wars against our own workers.

Boeing made big news last week when it successfully extracted harsh concessions from the Seattle-based IAM 751 union.

The deal, which locks down manufacturing of Boeing’s new 777X for 10 more years in Seattle, also notably ceases funding of union pensions, replacing guaranteed pensions with standard 401k plans like the ones with which you struggle to build a suitable retirement.

This is a big deal, as most middle-classers understand it is nearly impossible for an average American to save sufficiently for retirement through a 401k and Social Security alone.

Losing pensions means losing retirement security for some 33,000 union-worker families in the Puget Sound area.

Boeing, awash in cash, recently increased dividends and stock buy-backs — both practices known to occur only when companies literally have no better use for their overflowing money.

Still, Boeing pulled all levers to pressure the union to accept its demands. Boeing gallingly solicited tax breaks and incentives from 17 states throughout the U.S., pitting state against state to raise extortion demands against the union and the Seattle region.

Our own Jerry Brown offered up to 8 billion California taxpayer dollars to lure Boeing to So Cal at the expense of our friends and family in Seattle.

While creating no net benefit for society overall (same jobs gained here as lost there), Boeing would have won big with both giant tax breaks and a lower-paid work force. We would have paid eight billion dollars for their hustle.

But Boeing also needs a ready and trained work force, and in the end, Boeing plied their pocket full of taxpayer-funded extortion deals to bring cowed but capable union members back to the table.

Fearful members decided to hold on to as much of their livelihoods as they could in this scary post-recession time, and they approved the shortchanged deal.

Such is nowadays the way of middle class American workers. Frightened by a tough recession and without effective government protection, most simply hope to hang on for dear life.

Non-elite employees have largely become mere supplicants at the hands of highly profitable employers.

Back a couple of recessions ago, before economic fear took the wind out of workers and revenue-impaired state governments, folks talked about “stakeholders” having a say in American capitalism. Good business decisions weren’t restricted to “maximizing shareholder wealth” but were more broadly interpreted as benefiting all “stakeholders,” — the shareholders, the work force, the public, and the environment.

In this caper, Boeing, a company long benefited by American public education, facilitated by American infrastructure, and funded by large government contracts, double-crossed all of America for shareholder gain, manipulating American states as stooges against each other to lever for bargaining power against the union.

Threatening to “off shore” manufacturing to cheap southern states or to a desperate California Southland, Boeing literally triggered a multi-state economic civil war against Seattle’s jetliner workers. And our governments willingly participated in this zero-sum game of economic cockfighting.

IAM 751 union members will end up with employment for 10 years, a basic 401k, and a real shot at working at Walmart until the last day of their lives.

Boeing will “maximize shareholder value” as it saves tens of billions of dollars in employee benefits, even while competing against a higher paid socialized Airbus workforce.

This sordid Boeing affair brings to further light the quickly unfolding Great American Tragedy. That is, corporate money in politics has pitted a struggling middle class against itself as we have been cowered, divided, and conquered.

Average Americans will not be able to reasonably afford retirement even on earnest 401k savings combined with their ever-threatened Social Security.

Most will face significant downsizing, and a wide swath of the least of us face poverty or near poverty as we exit the door from the American Dream to the New American Nightmare.

In our new, crude America, “Shareholders take all, “broader stakeholders” are forgotten, and workers passively submit to the scraps off the table.

The defeat of IAM 751 is a view to the expansion of American economic inequality in real time, and with the consent of our own state governments, we’ve have effectively brought it on ourselves.

With these floodgates open there’s more to come, and look for further cutbacks, now justified by this nasty precedent, at a job near you.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.



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