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Sells' bill adds to stir over Boeing

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Columnist
Rep. Mike Sells doesn't usually kick up a lot of dust in Olympia.
This session, he is.
The Everett Democrat is generating a cyclone of conflict with his bill, a third attempt to let workers opt out of company meetings where bosses talk about politics, religion or which charitable groups deserve support.
Business leaders detest the worker-protection bill, claiming it will infringe on their basic right to chat with their employees.
The company with arguably the most disdain for the legislation is the giant in Sells' back yard, Boeing.
Having this mega-corporation stand firm against you might be a badge of honor for Sells, whose other job is secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council.
But in the Capitol, his bill is stressing out a few of his valued political allies, including Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.
They perceive it as another straw bending the backbone of Boeing's desire to stay in Washington. And with this week's layoffs, the worried whispers are getting louder that Boeing may pull up stakes before it plants new ones.
Talk of losing Boeing is a perennial topic in Olympia.
Sells, in a rare expression of bluntness, wonders why he needs to back off because it's coming up again.
"Their mantra is 'Do it our way or we're leaving.' My question is, when are they going to make a commitment to stay here? Where is their commitment to the community and the state instead of trying to bully people?" he said.
Sells isn't alone in his frustration.
They threaten to leave "so frequently you get tired of hearing it," Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish said.
There's a feeling among some lawmakers they are living with a temperamental superstar on whose success the state depends but who cannot be satisfied no matter what they do.
Sells' bill adds to the stir.
Boeing is expected to start a second production line for assembly of its 787 aircraft, deliveries of which have fallen way behind schedule. Republicans and key Democratic legislators worry this bill emits a negative signal to Boeing and will be a factor in deterring them from choosing Everett.
Boeing officials are mum on a second line.
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon interprets the silence as a bad sign; if Boeing is not talking to this state about its future, then it stands to reason it is conversing about it with someone else.
Those layoffs bolster such fears.
Reardon is speaking louder than any other politician on the seriousness of the situation, insisting it is not 2003 and lawmakers cannot wait for Boeing to behave as it did before they act as they must.
Back then, Boeing held a competition for its 787 and Washington won by making major legislative reforms and offering monstrous tax breaks to the aerospace giant.
Losing states learned, he said, and spent the past six years doing what Washington did in anticipation of the day they could compete successfully for the second line.
"Other states want what we have. If the state doesn't take action this session, when the second line is established, it won't be here," he said.
Gregoire is sensing the urgency. This week, she appointed a special envoy to Boeing, Bill McSherry, and handed him the overwhelming task of "securing Boeing's future in our state."
Part of the job is helping the firm win the Air Force's air tanker contract.
For now, in this legislative session, it will mean pushing through lower costs for Boeing on unemployment insurance and workers compensation, and considering new or expanded tax breaks for aerospace firms.
Even if the governor and her envoy can do all that, they still must deal with Mike Sells and his bill.
And that's another storm completely.

Jerry Cornfield, 360-352-8623,
Story tags » EverettBoeingStateGovernorLegislatureCounty CouncilCounty executiveEmployees

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