The conference that didn’t happen: Mexico Now canceled Seattle event

Dec 1, 2010

Organized labor flexed its muscles recently in our region, showing their influence behind the scenes. There won’t be any protests on the evening news.  But the threat of large-scale demonstrations this week by the Machinists Union and its supporters culminated in the cancellation of a conference meant to lure aerospace manufacturing to Mexico. It was scheduled to take place tomorrow in Seattle.  

A Boeing supply chain director was to be the second speaker on the day’s agenda.  Machinists union President Tom Wroblewski went public last month with his demands that Boeing pull out of the conference. 

Here’s an excerpt of the letter he wrote to Boeing President and CEO Jim McNierny:

“Given that you are chairman of President Obama’s President’s Council on Exports, we feel it is incredibly inappropriate for your company to be involved in this effort to undermine America’s aerospace manufacturing industry,” he wrote.

He went on to explain that the union would organize protests outside the conference as well as at the headquarters of three major local companies taking part.  The union says this tactic led to the cancellation of two similar outsourcing conferences in Wichita, Kansas, over the past year.

“Clearly, the last thing you or I want to see is Machinists marching with signs outside Longacres,” Wroblewski said in his letter to McNerney.

“But this issue is too big for this union to ignore. As you have acknowledged, America’s economic recovery hinges upon increasing the sales of U.S.-made products overseas. And as you stated last week, the talent drain caused by outsourcing is causing long-term damage to our nation’s economy. To maximize the benefit to the U.S. economy, we must minimize the outsourcing of American manufacturing.”

Put another way, Machinists spokeswoman Connie Kelliher explained “They’re supposed to be exporting airplanes, not jobs.”

Boeing did not respond publicly to the letters from the Machinists or others joining in the protest, including the SPEEA Union, Washington State Labor Council and several members of the state’s congressional delegation.  But on November 23, Mexico NOW canceled the event citing the threat of protests.

The group’s Sergio Ornelas said in a statement,  “It is sad that such threats take place in a free market where the focus needs to be on long-term competitiveness and lower prices for consumers. It is because of such threats and the potential for disruption, as well as concern for our attendees that we choose to cancel this event.”

Boeing spokesman Tim Healy echoed that sentiment when asked about the company’s stance on outsourcing to Mexico in the wake of the cancelled conference.

“ Boeing is a global company with employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders around the world. In general terms, we support having a dialogue with our global stakeholders, particularly where it supports our long-term success," he wrote in an email to KPLU News.

"After all, that is how we can continue being successful, sustaining and creating jobs in the Puget Sound and throughout Boeing Commercial Airplanes.”

Clearly, the debate about international outsourcing is far from over.