Union chief blasts candidate over views on tanker

A Congressional candidate’s suggestion that the U.S. Air Force should buy aerial refueling tankers built “here or somewhere else” drew a stinging response from the leader of the Aerospace Machinists union in Washington state.

“‘Somewhere else?’ Alabama is ‘somewhere else,'” retorted Tom Wroblewski, who is president of Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle.

Wroblewski’s comments came after the release of an audio recording of a recent interview with a reporter from KSER radio and John Koster, a Snohomish County Council member who is challenging U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen for his seat in Congress representing Washington’s Second Congressional District. The Second District includes most of Snohomish County, including Everett, the home of Boeing’s largest factory and the place where the company has proposed building KC-767 tankers for the Air Force.

In the interview, Koster is asked his views on Boeing and the tanker contract. Koster quickly acknowledges that “Boeing is a big part of it here,” but then seems to suggest that while he favors an American-built tanker, it doesn’t really matter to him who builds it. “We need that tanker built in this country … whether it’s built at this plant or somewhere else,” Koster says.

That didn’t sit well with Wroblewski, given that the only option to building Boeing tankers in Everett is for the Pentagon to award the tanker contract to EADS, which proposes to assemble the jets in Mobile, Ala., from parts fabricated in Europe.

“Alabama is chomping at the bit to bring the tanker and these jobs to their community,” Wroblewski said. “Apparently, that isn’t a big deal to John Koster. Well, it is a big deal to the 4,000 Machinists in this area that will assemble this plant right here when Boeing wins the contract.”

Larsen also criticized Koster, saying he had “just flunked Snohomish County 101.”

“The tanker contract means thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in economic boost right here in Snohomish County,” Larsen continued. “This is my top priority when it comes to jobs and turning around our economy. I’m doing everything I can to make sure the best aerospace workers in the world build the next generation of Air Force tankers right here.”

The long-running battle between Boeing and EADS over the U.S. tanker contract has become a key issue in this year’s mid-term Congressional elections in Washington, with incumbent Democrats earning the endorsement of the Machinists Union for their strong support of Boeing’s bid, while Republicans have seemed to fumble over how to address the issue, given that GOP leaders are backing efforts to give the tanker contract to the Europeans. Earlier this fall, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray chastized her Republican challenger, Dino Rossi, after he said he didn’t feel World Trade Organization findings against EADS should be a factor in the Pentagon’s decision on which tanker to buy. Rossi quickly reversed himself after being ridiculed by Larsen and other Congressional Democrats.

Larsen on Monday made it clear where he stands. “There is only one answer when it comes to questions on the tanker,” he said. “The tanker needs to be built right here in Everett.”

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