Burbank: Tax breaks for Boeing have helped send jobs out of state

By John Burbank

Here’s a headline that should make us happy: “Trump, Battered in Washington, Is Buoyed at Boeing Rally.” That was from the New York Times, last Friday.

But the funny thing is, there was no Boeing rally in our state, where the vast majority of Boeing workers live and work, making the vast majority of Boeing’s airplanes. And it wasn’t “fake news.” Trump just decamped to Charleston, South Carolina, to have a love fest with Boeing management. Those are the same people who funded and masterminded an all-out multi-million-dollar anti-union campaign to blackmail workers in South Carolina not to join the Machinists union.

The backdrop for this love fest between the billionaire and the mere millionaires of Boeing’s management was the latest new Boeing 787-10 Dreamliner in production in South Carolina. South Carolina wasn’t even called out in Boeing’s employment statistics in 2012. Now it is touted as the jewel in the crown. Is something wrong with this picture? A lot of things.

How did Boeing get all the billions of dollars to invest in South Carolina? Well, it could be seen as a direct transfer of tax money from our state, to Boeing, to South Carolina. Just in 2014 and 2015, Boeing got more than $521 million in tax breaks from the state of Washington. Did that go to ramping up Boeing employment in our state? No, employment has actually fallen, from 87,000 in October 2012 to 71,000 now. That is a loss of 16,000 jobs, or almost 1 out of 5 jobs disappeared.

Adding up the tax exemptions that Boeing rammed through the Legislature in 2003 ($3.2 billion) and 2013 ($8.7 billion) and even a top executive can figure out that’s how to invest in South Carolina. Which Boeing has done, to the tune of at least $2 billion, so far. These tax breaks have also enabled Boeing to pay over $41 million in fines in 2014 and 2015 for falsifying claims for the maintenance of military aircraft. No skin off Boeing’s profits!

Why is Boeing so anxious to rob the state of Washington and starve education funding, with these tax breaks? Is it because the workers in Washington, organized together in the Machinists Union and SPEEA, saved Boeing from its disastrous outsourcing of initial production of the 787 to other state, countries and companies? Is it because the 737 plant is going full-tilt as Boeing’s cash cow in Renton? Is it because we have the biggest concentration of aerospace-related production, manufacturing, and brain power in the world right here. Is it because the state of Washington has invested in community college workforce training and degrees tailored specifically to “supply” skilled workers for Boeing?

OK, so none of these reasons makes sense. How about this one: Washington workers are organized into unions at Boeing. Because of this, they don’t have to forfeit their constitutional rights when they walk into the plant. They get some respect from the company. They have some power to negotiate with the company to determine their wages and benefits. They cannot be fired at the arbitrary whim of a supervisor. They cannot be fired by Donald Trump, like he loved to do on “The Apprentice.”

Are there ways to stop the hemorrhaging of Boeing jobs from our state? Last year, state Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, proposed a simple equation: Boeing, if you want your tax break, you keep jobs in Washington; if you reduce employment by 5,000 jobs or more, you lose your tax break and that money goes into education funding.

Really, what do we have to lose? Our state is just getting played by Boeing. We give Boeing tax breaks, they invest in other states and countries. We don’t, and Boeing invests in other states and countries, but they will have less money to do so. And of course, whenever these Boeing off-sites like the joint Boeing-Russian operation for titanium machining in the Ural Mountains of Russia, or the Charleston, South Carolina, site for the 787-E or the Boeing technology center in Moscow, whenever any one of them fail the exact quality assurance we all need for aircraft, Boeing will always fall back on the workers, the machinists, the engineers and the aerospace infrastructure of Washington state. So rather than encouraging Boeing to go, let’s just tell them they should stay!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

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