Top aerospace workers give Boeing the edge

The skill and experience of the Boeing Co.’s workers are what gives the company the deciding edge in the competition to build aerial refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force, executives said during a recent rally in Everett.

Members of Washington’s Congressional delegation vowed to support those workers, to make sure that they end up building the next generation of Air Force tankers, not Airbus workers in France.

“We have a place to build this tanker,” said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen. “We have the people to build this tanker. We have the experience to build this tanker. What do they have? Illegal subsidies.”

“We respect our competitors,” added U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee. “They make some of the best croissants in the world. But we make the best airplanes.”

Hundreds of Machinists and other Boeing workers gathered for the rally, which was held on the 767 assembly line inside Boeing’s Everett factory on Sept. 27. They heard Boeing Commercial Airplanes President Jim Albaugh call them “the best aerospace workers in the world,” while other executives also talked about how that would make a big difference in the tanker competition.

“We’ve got outstanding proven performers, both from the commercial and military programs,” said Jean Chamberlain, Boeing’s director of 767 tanker program. “We’ve done our prep work and we’ve got the team.”

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray called the Machinists and the others the “most-skilled, best-trained, most-productive aerospace workers in the world.” Murray vowed to “fight for your jobs, and the jobs of your neighbors and friends,” and described how she had introduced legislation in the Senate to required the Pentagon to include the illegal subsidies that EADS has received as one of the bid criteria.

“You’ve had to compete against the treasuries of foreign governments,” she told the workers inside the factory. “I will not stop fighting for this contract till the next generation of tankers is taking off from right outside these doors.”

“Nobody is going to beat you out of this contract,” Murray vowed.

Inslee, who introduced similar legislation in the House, agreed, and said it was time to end Europe’s unfair advantage in aerospace.

“We’re getting steroids out of baseball,” he said. “We’re ending cheating on Wall Street. It’s time to cut the subsidies out of tanker competitions.”

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who chairs the Defense Appropriations subcommittee in the House of Representatives, noted the long and tortured history of the tanker and said it’s time for the saga to end.

“This is the third time, and this time we will win and win decisively,” Dicks said. “The 767 is the right airplane, this is the right time to win this competition and you’re going to do it.”

But it won’t end well unless voters continue to support the Democrats who back Boeing, warned U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott.

“Patty Murray has to be reelected to the U.S. Senate to lead the fight for the tanker program,” McDermott said. “You can imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t been there to derail the misguided attempt by John McCain to send this contract to Airbus.”

Likewise, if Democrats fail to support candidates like Larsen, they’ll lose the majority in the House, which will limit Dicks’ ability to fight for the tanker, McDermott said.

“But here’s what it means if we win,” he said. “We get the contracts at the end of this year and we start building planes in Everett.”

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