By Jerry Cornfield
Gov. Jay Inslee today signed into law a lengthy extension of a multibillion-dollar tax break to help convince the Boeing Co. to place final assembly and wing work of the future 777X jetliner in the state.
Inslee also signed a bill that will immediately pump millions of dollars into educating and training new workers for the aerospace industry.
The bill-signing took place at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Both bills were passed during a special session of the Legislature on Saturday.
That tax-break bill is worth an estimated $8.7 billion over 16 years. It extends existing tax breaks, due to expire in 2024, into 2040. Boeing has asked for the extension to cover the anticipated manufacturing period for the future jetliner. It is contingent on the aerospace firm siting the program in Washington by June 30, 2017.
The new law also makes clear that the preferential business-and-occupation tax rate will disappear if final assembly, wing assembly or wing fabrication of the 777X and future versions are moved outside Washington.
The second bill pumps $17 million into education and training of future aerospace workers. It includes $8 million for 1,000 new enrollment slots in community and technical colleges and $1.5 million for enlarging the Washington Aerospace Training and Research Center at Paine Field in Everett.
Boeing’s commitment to build the 777X in Washington is also contingent on the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ratifying an eight-year contract extension on Wednesday.
That proposed extension is laced with concessions on pension and health-care benefits that have enraged many of 22,000 members of District 751 who will be casting ballots Wednesday.
Some of those opponents plan to demonstrate their displeasure at a rally at 3:30 p.m. today at the union hall in Everett, near Boeing’s big factory at Paine Field.
“This contract offer from the company is one of the most destructive and divisive proposals that we, as union members, have ever faced,” reads a statement posted by opponents. “If accepted we would give up wages, benefits, and pensions that were established through hard fought contract negotiations and strikes by generations of Fighting Machinists that came before us.”
At today’s bill signing, Ray Conner, chief executive officer of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, acknowledged the conflict in the ranks of the IAM.
“I know that change is not easy, but by working together we have the opportunity to put something in place, to cement for decades to come good high-paying jobs for many, many years,” he said.
He said the company is “under siege” from international competition and “this is our opportunity to win and to win big.”
Update: Boeing has launched a website that lays out its proposal on its own terms, with a theme: “Secure your future with market-leading pay, retirement and health care.”
Among the things the Boeing website seeks to clarify is that the company’s promises — in the present contract to build the 737 Max in Renton and in the extension to build the 777X in Washington — are indeed ongoing promises. Some union members claim that the new language is anything but binding.