Unions representing aerospace workers in Washington state are backing legislation to place conditions on industry tax credits, drawing the ire of one of the state's flagship companies.
The state Legislature passed $8.7 billion in tax credits in 2013 as part of an effort to secure production of Boeing Company's 777X jetliner in the state. Since the tax credit package was enacted, however, Boeing's Washington jobs fell by more than 2,500 — though its workforce still stands at more than 80,000 in its former home state. The aerospace giant was founded nearly 100 years ago in Seattle but moved its corporate headquarters to Chicago in 2001.
The loss of those jobs, particularly among Boeing's engineering and research and development positions, prompted a pair of legislative efforts by the International Association of Machinists District 751 and the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the company's two largest unions.
One bill would establish a workforce threshold for Boeing to receive the tax credits allocated in 2013; the other, which would apply to all companies receiving the credits, would require paying a "living wage."
Larry Brown, executive director of the machinists' union, predicted the job losses in recent years would lead to further cuts in manufacturing and would make Washington "less competitive in landing the next plane program." Contract talks between Boeing and the machinists were particularly heated during negotiations over production of the 777X, with members narrowly agreeing to a new deal with significant wage and benefit concessions early last year.
Boeing officials countered the company has added 30,000 jobs in Washington since an initial round of incentives was passed in 2003, adding the credits have "the strictest accountability standards of any incentives in the state."
"Attaching arbitrary job creation numbers to an industry that is already boosting Washington's economy is harmful and unnecessary," said Boeing spokesman Doug Alder.
The Washington incentives, meanwhile, have come under fire from the European Union, which has alleged they violate World Trade Organization rules and give Boeing an unfair advantage over French competitor Airbus.
Boeing is also opposing the machinists' efforts on a second front as the group seeks to organize a union at its South Carolina plant. Gov. Nikki Haley is featured in a new radio ad urging workers to reject union efforts at the plant, which manufactures the 787 Dreamliner.