Tanker fight ‘toughest thing’ in Dicks’ DC career

SEATTLE — The fight over the U.S. Air Force’s tanker contract was “the toughest thing I’ve been involved with in Washington, D.C.,” Congressman Norm Dicks said Thursday.

The ebb and flow of Boeing’s fortunes – “we won it, we lost it, then we won it a second time” – was draining, as was the fight against Arizona Sen. John McCain to ensure the Pentagon’s bid requirements were fair, he said.

“That second go-round, they really aimed this thing at Airbus,” Dicks said.

But in the end, it was worth it, because of the economic opportunity it presents to Puget Sound workers, including Machinists Union District Lodge 751 members, Dicks said.

“This was, to me, the most important thing, that this would provide jobs for all these workers,” he said.

Dicks made his remarks at a fundraising breakfast in Seattle on April 28. The audience included a District 751 delegation led by District President Tom Wroblewski.

Dicks was one of the prime movers who helped Boeing win the bid, said Jim Albaugh, the CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, who also spokes at the breakfast.

“There were times we’d almost decided maybe we shouldn’t bid,” Albaugh said. “Norm wasn’t having any of that.”

In particular, Albaugh credited Dicks with convincing the Pentagon to factor into the bidding the projected costs of operating the competing Boeing and EADS tankers over a 40-year life cycle, instead of the 25 years that EADS supporters wanted.

Forty years might not have been long enough, Dicks said, considering that the Air Force has flown its current KC-135 tankers for almost 50 years, and expects to still have 80-year-old tankers in its inventory before the last ones are retired.

Dicks’ encouragement and assistance with the life cycle costs made the Boeing win possible, Albaugh said.

“I’m not sure we’d have won that without you,” he told the Congressman. “If there’s one person we should give credit to for that great Northwest and Boeing win, it’s Norm Dicks.”

Boeing’s experienced Puget Sound workforce was a key component as well, Dicks said. He told of bringing the former House Armed Services Committee chairman, the late Congressman John Murtha, to Boeing’s Everett plant on a tour.

Dicks said he showed Murtha the factory and told him “we’ve got experienced people who can do this job. Down in Alabama, they’ve got an empty field with no workers.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, Machinists District Lodge 751 now represents nearly 27,000 working men and women at 44 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2010, District 751 members ratified new contracts with 22 of those employers, without a single workday lost to strikes.

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