Huge Tax Breaks Not Enough? Boeing Ships 2K Jobs Away from WA to More Union-Unfriendly State

Less than 11 months after receiving $8.7 billion in tax incentives from the Washington state legislature, Boeing has announced they will transfer nearly 2,000 engineering jobs to “lower cost regions” over the next three years. 

The tax incentives, the largest in U.S. history, were granted in part to keep Boeing’s 777x program in the The Evergreen State. Union members are now asking why the state’s legislators did not tie the tax incentives to employment.  

In a news release, Ray Goforth, Executive Director of the local Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), was incredulous: “The silence from Olympia is deafening.  Why are Washington taxpayers subsidizing Boeing to move thousands of jobs out of state?”

“Every state except Washington that offered Boeing tax breaks for the 777X program tied jobs to the legislation,” Goforth added. “Now, we have taxpayers subsidizing the movement of good engineering, technical and machinist jobs out of our state.”

Boeing’s top lobbyist, Senior Vice President Tim Keating, offered a weak and incredibly vague response in the Seattle Times:

“Ray Goforth has a pattern: The problem is that he looks at Boeing (management) and we are breathing in and out. That annoys him. We can’t do anything right.”

Bloomberg Businessweek explains that the jobs in question are in the company’s defense unit.  These engineers support the F-22 Raptor, B-2 Stealth bomber, and the airborne early-warning and control system (AWACS) jets and cruise missiles.

A majority of the jobs will go to Oklahoma City, with 500 heading off to St. Louis where the company bases its Defense, Space, and Security division.  Boeing says it will attempt to offer engineers from the Seattle area jobs in its commercial jet division.  It will also provide “job search resources, retirement seminars, and career counseling services” for those unwilling to transfer.  

Chris Chadwick, Chief Executive of Boeing’s Defense and Space division, predictably explained the situation in terms of perceived competitiveness:

“The decision to consolidate these activities was difficult because it affects our employees, their families and their communities.  However, this is necessary if we are going to differentiate ourselves from competitors and stay ahead of a rapidly changing global defense environment.”

What is impossible to deny, however, is that the company will be able to cut labor costs and ditch union workers by moving to a less worker-friendly state.  This is nothing new given Boeing’s anti-union history, but the brazen acceptance of tax incentives from one state without honoring that state’s workers is what makes it so difficult to accept.

As a result, union leaders are vowing legislative action.  Jon Holden, President of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, said in a press release:

“We are concerned and disappointed with the continuing loss of high-wage aerospace jobs in our state.  This is not the job growth our legislators had in mind when they approved the nation’s largest tax-incentive plan for the industry last winter, and this is why we are partnering on legislation that would put accountability measures in place.”

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