Management at the Boeing Co. told employees Thursday it is moving more engineering jobs from Bellevue and Everett to California, according to the Seattle Times. Within hours, members of the state Senate’s Majority Coalition Caucus jumped on Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee in news releases, questioning what the first-year Democrat can do to stop the job losses, which could total 375, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In what was an unsurprising move less than a month after a long, partisan legislative session, three members of the Republican-dominated Senate coalition quickly suggested the Legislature (meaning House Democrats) needs to do more for the state’s golden-haired aerospace industry. They pointed some comments at Inslee, their Democratic rival, while noting that it was the second such Boeing announcement since May moving engineering jobs to Long Beach.
But it is not clear – based on news reports – that Boeing is moving the jobs for the reasons the Majority Coalition Caucus is claiming.
The Seattle Times reported Friday that the announcement involves “aftermarket engineering work on modifying jets for current customers and converting aging passenger jets to freighters.” It said more than half of the 375 engineers who do that work around Puget Sound would move.
Sen. Rodney Tom, the majority leader in the GOP-dominated Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, blamed legislative inaction on a business-backed rewrite of workers compensation laws and failure to include a study of fish consumption that could have delayed rules due in 2014 that will help guide clean-water standards. He said:
"My biggest fear is that we’re chasing Boeing out of town. Legislative leaders can’t control labor negotiations, but we can act on legislative requests when our state’s largest aerospace company makes them. Why? Because California wants our jobs. South Carolina wants our jobs. Russia wants our jobs.
"Instead of taking action, we allow common-sense workers compensation reform to languish - reform which would have saved both workers and the company money. We allow some in the Legislature to make a political issue out of Boeing's top request last year - that we use good science to craft our environmental regulations. Boeing can construct buildings in South Carolina before we can even get a permit approved in Washington.
"We have to be HUNGRY for these Boeing jobs. We have to do everything we can to signal that these jobs are wanted here in my community, Bellevue, and everywhere else in this state. That's what other areas are doing and it's what we need to be doing here in Washington."
Inslee’s office was given a heads-up from Boeing about the job transfers, Inslee spokesman David Postman said Thursday. Postman did not say what reasons Boeing gave the governor for the job transfers. But he indicated it was not the factors – workers comp reform and fish-consumption rules tied to water quality standards – that Tom mentioned.
Postman argued there are reasons to hope for additional aerospace jobs in the state:
“We don’t know yet for sure what the net job impact to its Washington State employment will be under today’s announcement. We believe strongly there are continued opportunities to grow the aerospace cluster in our state ... Many of these engineers who choose not to relocate will very likely be able to find jobs throughout the supply chain. The 1,249 aerospace related companies in Washington that aren’t Boeing are growing and they are desperate to find skilled and experienced workers. The governor is working hard to bring additional pieces of the commercial aircraft supply chain to Washington. The future remains bright for aerospace in Washington and the governor is committed to doing what we need to do to maintain our position as a global leader in this incredible industry, and that includes an aggressive effort to have the 777X built here.”
Sen. Mike Hewitt, a Walla Walla Republican and former GOP leader, had the strongest criticism for Inslee:
"While I'm disappointed with today's news that more Boeing engineers are leaving our state, I'm downright perplexed at the seeming lack of concern from the governor's office to these job losses. During the last engineer migration, the head of the Governor's aerospace office responded by saying that the sky isn't falling. Inslee may have come into office promising to bring a new proactive vision for securing the workforce needs of our state's aerospace industry, but so far that vision hasn't been matched by reality.
"Under Governor Locke, we lost Boeing's corporate headquarters. Then came Governor Gregoire and the loss of thousands of production jobs to South Carolina. What's Governor Inslee's legacy going to be on Boeing? Granted it's early in his tenure, but at this point it looks like he's picking up where his predecessors left off.”
Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler of Ritzville blamed Washington’s business climate and labor contracts:
"Boeing’s leaders have made it increasingly clear that if our state's business climate doesn't improve we can expect more headlines of this type. Between that and the other clues we’ve seen lately I’ve got to believe Boeing has concluded it will run into fewer labor disputes in California. One would hope the governor knows the reason behind today’s disappointing news – if it isn’t related to labor contracts, and has to do instead with something the Legislature can address, he should convey that to those of us who are in a position to respond.
"If you want to talk about family-wage jobs, engineering positions at Boeing – which in our state carry average annual salaries of more than $100,000 – are exactly what's on the line. We live in an increasingly global and competitive world; other states and countries know how valuable the industry is and that's why they're taking steps to try to lure Boeing away from our state.
"The bottom line is that our state's economy will not recover until more jobs are created, and since the governor took office it sure seems the aerospace industries in other states are benefiting at Washington’s expense. Standing by and allowing these sorts of jobs to move away should not be an option. I remain ready to work with the governor and elected officials at all levels, from both sides of the aisle, to make sure Washington is a place where employers want to do business."