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Labor emphasizes it's on board with Missouri's effort to woo Boeing

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 5, 2013 - Bob Soutier, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, says that there’s no split in local labor ranks when it comes to backing the effort in the Missouri Capitol to craft an incentive package to persuade Boeing to move production of its new commercial airliner, the 777x, to this state.

Soutier emphasizes that includes the Machinists union officials representing some Boeing workers at the military-production plant by Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.

Soutier, a member of the Machinists union, was the designated spokesman Thursday to handle a controversy over comments that a local Boeing-based Machinist official made to a reporter at public radio station in Seattle.

The flap arose just as members of the Missouri House were traveling to Jefferson City for a likely vote Friday on the incentive package. Among other things, it calls for up to $150 million a year in state tax credits for Boeing if the company creates at least 2,000 new jobs in Missouri over the next 10 years.

The state Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure on Wednesday.

Gordon King, who holds the post of “directing business representative” for Machinists District 837 at Boeing’s operation here, was quoted Thursday in the Seattle radio report as saying that construction of the 777x should remain in Seattle, where fellow Machinists “are the most qualified and experienced to perform that work.”

His comments created a stir because Boeing’s contract battle with the Machinists union in Seattle is cited as the chief reason it’s entertaining offers from other states, including Missouri.

Since that report aired, King has issued a statement in support of the Missouri effort to woo Boeing; he also has referred all press queries to Soutier. “The Boeing workforce in St. Louis prides itself on creating these incredible planes with our skilled workforce and looks forward to the opportunity to build the 777X here in St. Louis,” King said in his statement.

Soutier said that King’s comments on the radio were “just mischaracterized’’ by the Seattle station. They were never intended to be critical of Missouri's campaign to attract more Boeing work, Soutier said.

“He was just trying to be a good union brother,’’ Soutier continued. “He will do anything to bring Boeing here.”

Soutier emphasized that Boeing hasn’t held any discussions with the Machinists here, adding that it ‘would be premature” for such labor talks before the aircraft-maker has decided where to locate production of the 777x.

Political factions play down differences

The real story, Soutier said, is that St. Louis’ business and labor communities, Republicans and Democrats, are setting aside differences to work together on a campaign to persuade Boeing to move 777x production to St. Louis.

“We’re in the game,” said Soutier. “We’re working together.”

Soutier noted that House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican often at odds with the governor -- and with labor, has emphasized publicly that he and Nixon are “on the same page’’ when it comes to wooing Boeing.

Jones has been a big supporter of efforts to curb labor's clout in the workplace and has called for passing a “right-to-work’’ measure to bar employers or unions from requiring all workers to pay union dues if a majority votes to join a union. But Jones apparently plans to delay that fight until the regular legislative session, which gets underway in January.

In the case of labor, said Soutier, “We want to work with business, not against them” to attract more jobs to Missouri. That’s especially true regarding Boeing, since its new jobs are likely to be union jobs.

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