Union supports call for tanker investigation

EVERETT — Machinists Union officials say they strongly support U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s call for hearings into the mismanagement of U.S. Air Force tanker bidding data.

“Thank you Senator Cantwell for standing up and being a voice on this,” said Jim Bearden, the administrative assistant at Machinists Union District Lodge 751.

Bearden called the mix-up — where the Air Force sent proprietary Boeing bid data to Airbus and vice versa — “a breach of protocol and perhaps an ethical violation.”

Bearden spoke at a Thursday press conference held on the 767 line inside Boeing’s massive Everett factory. Boeing has built 1,000 767s there, and would continue building the planes if it wins the Air Force’s tanker bid.

At the press conference, Cantwell said that Congress needs to get to the bottom of what actually happened during the bid-data mix-up, and determine what the implications are.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing next week on the mix-up. It’s a chance to keep the Air Force from “making a $35 billion mistake,” Cantwell said. “Not only is this tanker bid crucial to our national security, it is one of the Defense Department’s largest acquisitions ever, so it’s crucial we get it right.”

Airbus parent company EADS had access to prorprietary Boeing bid data for a full month while the Air Force investigated the mix-up, Cantwell noted. That could have compromised the bidding by allowing EADS to adjust its the asking price in its bid. Congress should also determine whether both companies followed the ethics rules and standards outlined by the Air Force at the start of the bidding — and if they didn’t someone needs to answer how this has affected the competition, she added.

“Even if this release was inadvertent, it can have far reaching consequences if not addressed properly, if it ends up violating laws and fair-competition regulations, or if it directly impacts a bidder’s strategy for establishing its final price,” she said. 

Cantwell’s Thursday press conference coincided with the release of a report from an oft-quoted defense analyst, Loren Thompson, who predicted that Airbus will win the tanker bidding “largely on the basis of aggressive pricing.”

He said EADS is able to undercut Boeing on price — depsite having a larger and more-expensive airplane — because it has received more than $20 billion in subsidies ruled illegal by the World Trade Organization, including $5.7 billion in direct support for the A330 aircraft that is the basis for the EADS tanker bid.

“The U.S. Air Force will be awarding a $40 billion program to the Europeans because of attractive pricing at the same time the World Trade Organization is highlighting the illegal methods Airbus has used to under-price its rival,” Thompson wrote. “The centerpiece of European strategy in the tanker competition … has always been to offer a … price that Boeing could not match. Now it has found an ally in the U.S. Air Force to help destroy more American jobs.”

Bearden said District 751 finds it “outrageous that Europe could have a pricing advantage based on illegal subsidies.”

The Boeing tanker will be more fuel-efficient to operate than the Airbus option, and it would be able to work on existing Air Force fields around the world, in contrast to the billions of dollars the Pentagon would have to spend to build new facilities for the Airbus plane, Bearden added.

“You and I would pay for that,” he said.

The Boeing tanker would provide tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for Americans and keep a vital technology “sacred within America’s borders,” he said. “If America is to remain capable of defending itself, we must not lose the vital capacity to produce the tools we use to defend our nation.”

“Now is the time for this foolishness to come to an end,” he said. “The Boeing tanker is the Air Force tanker.

“Even the French air force knows Boeing makes the right tanker,” Bearden concluded. “That’s why they have 14 KC-135 tankers, built by our members right here.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., Seattle-based Machinists District Lodge 751 now represents more than 26,000 working men and women at 44 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2010, it negotiated contracts with 22 of those employers without a single workday lost to strikes.

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  1. […] addition, District 751 leaders are strongly supporting U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s calls for an investingation into how the mix-up of tanker bid data – which resulted in an analysis of Boeing’s data being sent to Airbus and vice versa […]

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