What Boeing wants, Boeing gets -- and if it doesn't, it will take its jobs and go elsewhere.
That's the position the Washington State Labor Council says the airplane maker has taken in order to kill state legislation that would let employees skip meetings or private supervisor sit-downs in which the topic is politics, faith, charitable giving or, more importantly for the state's labor groups, efforts to unionize.
If workers are forced into such meetings, the Worker Privacy Act -- House Bill 1528 and Senate Bill 5446 -- would allow workers to sue their employer.
With a deadline looming March 12, the date by which bills must pass their house of origin to survive, the bills are stalled in each house's rules committee waiting for a floor vote. Those votes may not come, says the labor council's David Groves, because Boeing's lobbyists are telling legislators that the company will not open a second production line for its new 787 jetliner if the bill passes.
"I haven't heard it, but I keep getting that message" from legislators who have, says the bill's House sponsor, Mike Sells, D-Everett, who credits the pressure to Linda Lanham, an industry lobbyist with the Kent-based Aerospace Futures Alliance, which is funded in part by Boeing.
Boeing spokesperson Bernard Choi says Lanham does not speak for the company and, if legislators have been told this, "It's not an official Boeing position," he says.
Choi says Boeing strongly opposes the bill because it would infringe on an employer's free-speech rights, emulating a 2000 California statute the U.S. Supreme Court overruled last year.
California's Union Neutrality Law prevented employers from using state funds to pay for anti-union consultants or meetings. In June 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law, Choi says, stating in its majority opinion that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) trumps any state regulation on labor-related speech.
The NLRA, he says, was written to protect workers from coercive meetings. But "at the end of the day employers have a federally protected right to openly express views and opinions to employees." Passage of the bill, he says, "would send a clear anti-business message" to employers.
If the NLRA was enforced, it would be great, responds Groves. But in large part, it isn't. And the Worker Privacy Act, he says, is totally different from the California Union Neutrality Law.
That law, Groves says, prohibited state contractors from voicing anti-union sentiments in the workplace. "That was, in effect, muzzling employers' free-speech rights because they were banned from opposing unions," he says. "The Worker Privacy Act has no ban on any type of employer speech whatsoever."
"What's banned is forcing people to attend meetings on politics, religion, unions, and charitable giving. They're very different things," he says. "To assert the future of a production line hangs on this bill should give everyone pause as to why Boeing feels so strongly about retaining the ability to compel people to listen to [anti-union] crap against their will."
Boeing's goal, he says, is to keep its outsourced aerospace workers from unionizing. Boeing's long-delayed 787 was designed for final assembly at Boeing using parts and materials that it has outsourced to companies that pay nonunion employees less money -- a move that has helped Boeing shed a third of its union workforce since 1997, Groves says.
If those outsourced workers were to unionize, it would be a disaster from Boeing's point of view, Groves says. But "Freedom of speech is not a one-way street," Sells says. To be able "to walk away from that conversation is an important [American] value."
Among other bills that did or didn't pass their committee of origin by the Feb. 25 deadline:
* Health care for all. Sen. Karen Keiser's SB 5945, which sets a state goal of providing health coverage to every Washingtonian by 2012, passed the Senate in a 28-19 vote on March 9 and is now in the House, where it will continue to face strong opposition from business groups.
* Marijuana reclassification. A bill put forward by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, to reduce the penalty for possessing 40 grams or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a ticket-only civil infraction passed committee, but SB 5615 remains in limbo in Senate Rules awaiting a floor vote.
* Payday loans. The state's Alliance to Prevent Predatory Lending got skunked again. On March 9, the House passed HB 1709 to provide consumers with payday loan installment plans, but it and a Senate bill got so watered down, says the coalition's Danielle Friedman, that the coalition pulled support for both.
* Tenant protection. A bill that would have prevented landlords from looking up court eviction filings in which the tenant won has died. Other legislation that would give tenants more time to move when their landlords are foreclosed on (HB 1942, SB 5810) and prohibit landlords from discriminating against applicants based on their source of income (HB 1766, SB 5672) passed their respective committees, but have yet to be scheduled for floor votes.
* Transit-oriented development. Seattle Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis sent a memo to Rep. Sharon Nelson last week urging the sponsor of HB 1490, a controversial bill that would encourage higher-density zoning within a half-mile of designated light rail stations, not to put language in the bill ensuring one-for-one replacement of any low-income housing that might be lost to new development -- language that appears in the bill's Senate companion, SB 5687. Both remain in their rules committee waiting for a floor vote.