* Boeing unions aim to bid for 737 work
* Unions leaders, local pols say Boeing could solicit bids
* Boeing says does not know where next 737 would be built
By Kyle Peterson
CHICAGO, April 29 Boeing Co (BA.N) is months from
deciding how to update the next line of its best-selling 737
narrowbody airplane, but its Washington-based work force is
already preparing a campaign to persuade the company to build the
plane in that state.
The future of the 737 -- the short-haul workhorse for many
airlines around the globe -- is front and center in the commercial
aviation world as Boeing considers whether it should redesign the
airplane or simply put a more fuel-efficient engine on the current
Boeing is still evaluating the needs of its customers, its
capability to update the airplane and the costs involved. It has
said it may build the next line outside of Washington's Puget
Sound area, where the city of Renton been been home to the primary
737 assembly plant for more than 40 years.
There is a lot at stake for the tens of thousands of workers
who crank out 737s at a rate of 31.5 a month.
"Ultimately, we want to be prepared to be able to show the
company that we're a viable option, that we're the only option,"
said Tom Wroblewski, president of International Association of
Machinists (IAM) union District Lodge 751 in Seattle.
As Boeing considers its path, all options remain on the table.
Mike Bair, Boeing's head of single-aisle development programs,
told Reuters in March that the choice of materials would help
determine where the next 737 would be built.
The company may use carbon composites and an assembly strategy
similar to that of the 787 Dreamliner, which made liberal use of a
complex global supply chain.
"If the material set changes, then the supply chain probably
won't look the same," Bair said. "But we haven't even come close
to thinking about where we might build it or even who might build
Boeing declined to provide further comment for this story but
has promised an update on the 737 plan later this year. The
company's rival Airbus EAD.PA has already said it would
re-engine its competing A320.
MOUNTING A CAMPAIGN
The local IAM unit and the Society of Professional Engineering
Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) Local 2001 are working with a group
of Washington business leaders and state and local politicians on
what eventually may be a bid to keep the work in the state.
The group, known as the Washington Aerospace Partnership, is
spearheading an effort to lure aerospace work to Washington. A
growing part of its mission is to ensure that the next version of
the 737 is made in Washington state if the company were to solicit
bids from work groups in other states.
Union leaders said that prior to the 787 program, Boeing's
unionized workers did not have to bid against outsiders for work
on Boeing programs.
Bob Drewel, executive director of the Puget Sound Regional
Council, described the project as a reboot of an earlier mission
to help Boeing win a $30 billion Pentagon order for 179 U.S. Air
Force refueling planes.
He said the newest campaign is in the earliest stages and that
there is no bid for the 737 work ready to present to Boeing.
"There is a conversation in place," Drewel said. "(The 737) is
certainly part of the conversation and, frankly, a significant
part of the conversation."
Local union leaders and politicians say they are keeping their
ear to the ground for clues to Boeing's plan.
Ray Goforth, executive director of the local SPEEA unit, said
he expects Boeing to start shopping for a work force to build the
next 737 line in the next few months.
Talk within the industry is that the company will solicit bids
from various states soon in hopes of cutting costs or possibly
lowering tax rates, he said. Goforth said the decision by Boeing
to redesign or re-engine the 737 likely would have no bearing on
any company plans to solicit outside bids. It depends on Boeing's
reasons for doing so, he said.
"Until the company announces what their asks are, I don't even
know quite how to begin to put together a strategy" Goforth said.
He said, however, that SPEEA would mount its own campaign as well
as participate in similar efforts by IAM and the Washington
Renton Mayor Denis Law echoed that determination.
"We, as a region, are going to work very hard to make sure
that they continue to build airplanes here for generations to
come," he said.
BUTTING HEADS WITH UNIONS
Boeing has long acknowledged that the complexity of the 787
supply chain was partly responsible for a series of delays that
has put the project three years behind schedule. But the company
also blames a delay on a 58-day strike in 2008 by union workers
over a contract dispute.
Following that strike, Boeing decided to establish its second
787 assembly line in South Carolina where non-union workers are
less likely to disrupt assembly over disputes.
Earlier this month, the National Labor Relations Board accused
Boeing of placing the second 787 line in South Carolina primarily
to discourage union strikes, a protected activity. Boeing has said
it would fight the NLRB complaint.
Boeing does not disclose the cost of producing a 737. Nor does
it say how many workers are assigned to the project. The company
plans to increase the production rate of the 737 to 35 in early
2012 and to 38 in the second quarter 2013.
(Reporting by Kyle Peterson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)