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Friday, June 20, 2003

Forever New Frontiers

On Wednesday the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that would give The Boeing Co. $3,000,000,000 (as in "billion") worth of tax incentives over the next ten years if they elect to manufacture the new 7E7 "Dreamcruiser" here. According to estimates floated in the local press, this new line would employ "up to 1,000 assembly workers". Let's do the math, shall we? 3,000,000,000 divided by 1,000 equals $3,000,000 (as in "million") per job over ten years or $300,000 per job per year. Any bets that Boeing isn't going to be paying more than about $60,000 per year for each of those jobs? Even if you throw in some extra for benefits, worker's comp, etc., the net effect is that "The Big B" stands to reap a positive cash-flow (via reduced taxes) of roughly $2 billion dollars - give or take a few hundred million -- over ten years just for not leaving the state, and for keeping 1,000 jobs in an area with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation (currently 7.3% - which doesn't count people who've run out of UI benefits and/or have simply given up seeking employment altogether. Add those folks in and estimates could go as high as 11.8%), and where Boeing has already cut more than 20,000 local jobs representing approximately 10% of the total number of layoffs in Washington since December 2001, while continuing to do so at a rate of about 800 per month.

So, all of this sort of begs the question: is a $3 B giveaway to a single corporation worth the price of keeping a paltry 1,000 machinists jobs when that same amount of money could go a long way toward helping out 240,000 other currently un- or underemployed workers, not to mention what it might do for the state's current $2.4 B budget deficit?

(And do we even need to mention the fact that a lot of those aerospace sector jobs won't be coming back anytime soon, at least not if the current thrashing Boeing is taking at the hands of Euorpean rival Airbus at The Paris Air Show is any indication.)

And as if this weren't bad enough, the business lobby elected to ride the coat-tails of Boeing's arm-twisting to railroad their own agenda through Olympia, which among other things will greatly restrict UI eligibility and benefits for seasonal workers such as farm laborers, construction workers, and yes even actors. So, while people continue to lose jobs in this state at an alarming rate, the pro-business lobby is intent on dismantling the safety nets that might make the difference in keeping a lot of these people from ending up out on the streets. Whatever happened to the idea that when times are tough, people pull together to help each other out?

At the King County Labor Council meeting Wednesday evening, there was a lot of rancor from union reps whose members will now lose those precious UI benefits, and a lot of the anger was directed at SPEEA and IAMAW delegates representing the two largest Boeing employee unions. While people recognize that they were essentially put between the proverbial Scylla and Charybdis in terms of having to choose between saving the jobs of their own members versus saving the benefits of others, still there's a rift being wedged in the labor community by this situation, which no doubt has the business lobbyists in Olympia chortling with glee. And that's something we can't allow to happen. If the game they want to play is "divide and conquer" then we in labor have to be able to set aside our differences in the short-term and maintain our long-term solidarity. As the SPEEA delegate so succinctly put it, "we have to make sure we're still around tomorrow to fight to regain what we've lost today."

Our only hope now is that Governor Gary Locke either comes down with a case of double-Carpal Tunnel Syndrome right before signing, or that his conscience causes him to run a line through some of these provisions. And I guess that will depend in large part on whether he thinks he's got a chance at winning a third term. I can tell one thing though, if he doesn't exercise his line-item veto power, it means he's already given up on another four years in Olympia, because Labor is going to come down very, VERY hard on him if that happens.

Posted byCOMTE on 10:01 AM

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