Workers for The Boeing Co. in Washington have taken hit after hit in recent years. Their representatives in Congress have felt their pain.
When Boeing moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001, Sen. Patty Murray called it “a real stomach blow” to the state’s Congressional contingent. “This is a delegation that has carried the water for Boeing for 85 years,” she said.
As headlines have reflected the headquarters move, outsourcing and the choice of South Carolina over Washington for a new 787 Dreamliner assembly plant, workers have had their pick of who to blame: foreign competition, the economy, labor leaders, politicians and, of course, the aerospace giant that employs them.
One influential figure workers shouldn’t blame, their union leaders insist, is Murray. Boeing workers will be out in force for the 18-year incumbent ahead of the Nov. 2 election, paying her back for her efforts on their behalf, such as helping to keep Boeing in the hunt for an Air Force contract to build refueling tankers.
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“If it were not for Patty, brothers and sisters,” Machinists Union International President Tom Buffenbarger told a crowd of workers gathered in Seattle last week, “Europeans would be building the tanker right now.”
Her work on behalf of the state’s largest private employer might be one of Murray’s strongest cards to play as opponent Dino Rossi charges her with contributing to the nation’s job loss.
But Republicans aren’t conceding the territory to her.
Rossi said he’s skeptical Washington will ever see the jobs Boeing projected and Murray highlighted in a television commercial touting her work on the tanker contract. And he says Murray was “asleep at the wheel” when Boeing turned to South Carolina for a second assembly site for 787s, after negotiations with Washington unions broke down.
“She could have used some of her clout with some of her friends,” Rossi said, noting Murray’s support from unions, “and maybe helped the situation, but she decided to do nothing.”
But the Dreamliner move also provides Democrats with a target. In speeches to labor groups, Murray reminds them of Rossi’s endorsement by Sen. Jim DeMint, who cheered Boeing’s plans for his home state of South Carolina.
“If those are the endorsements that my opponent is touting, you know there is a lot at stake for labor in this election, and that only one candidate in this race is on your side,” Murray told Machinists and painters at a rally last week.
CAMPAIGN MESSAGE: JOBS
If you want to know one reason polls show Washington’s Senate race in a dead heat, look no further than the state’s unemployment rate. As of July, it stood at 8.9 percent.
Persistent unemployment nationwide is a major reason Democrats are in danger of losing their majorities in Congress. If Murray is to avoid being swept away by a potential wave of voter unrest against the party in power, nothing can be more helpful to her than to convince voters she’s been fighting for jobs.
To make that case, Murray points to her support for federal stimulus spending, including money for cleanup of the Hanford nuclear waste site; aid to state governments facing the prospect of layoffs; and a bill Democrats say would open up more lending to small businesses.
Rossi has been hitting Murray on the same theme, saying new regulations in Democrats’ laws to overhaul health care and financial rules will cost jobs. He says the much-touted stimulus hasn’t worked, flagging what he says are examples of waste, such as money for Tacoma’s Museum of Glass hot shop workers who explain glass blowing to visitors. Rossi says if Democrats really want to create jobs, they should extend all of President George W. Bush’s tax cuts.
Murray points to the tanker contract as one way she has fought for jobs.
The company estimates it and some 70 of its suppliers would add 11,000 jobs in Washington state if Boeing wins the contract to build the next generation of Air Force aerial refueling tankers. The company projects 50,000 jobs total in more than 40 states, spokesman William Barksdale said.
Rival defense contractor EADS also claims to be ready to create tanker-building jobs in the United States.
The Pentagon has said it plans to award the $35 billion contract in November, choosing between Boeing and EADS, parent of France-based Airbus. Labor leaders say EADS has an unfair edge because of subsidies for Airbus by European governments.
The World Trade Organization has ruled that Airbus is illegally subsidized, in a case Murray says she encouraged the Bush administration to file.
EADS and a U.S. partner were originally awarded the tanker contract, but it is up for grabs again after the Government Accountability Office found errors in the Air Force’s evaluation of EADS. Murray kept the issue alive with speeches and letters and pushed for the Pentagon to heed the GAO’s advice and rebid the contract.
“Any lever that she had to pull as a member of the United States Senate, she pulled it hard,” her spokeswoman, Julie Edwards, said.
Rossi said those jobs aren’t certain even if Boeing does win the contract, pointing to plants Boeing has opened elsewhere.
Boeing had 72,000 jobs in Washington last year, down from 102,000 in 1997. Republicans say if Murray wants to take credit for potential job additions, she has to share the blame for those losses.
Any time Boeing opens a new plant somewhere else, Rossi said, local members of Congress get some of the credit. “When these senators, her colleagues, are wooing The Boeing Co. and meeting with them, what was she doing?” Rossi said.
In fact, Murray tried to persuade Boeing to locate its second 787 line here, she said in an interview. And Larry Brown, political director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, recalled Murray offering help in unions’ talks with Boeing at the time.
“She did everything that she could,” Larry Brown, political director for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 751, said. “I think they had made their decision years earlier.”
Re-electing Murray is the union’s top political priority, Brown said. It’s staging a get-out-the-vote effort with its members, he said.
For months, Machinists have been going door-to-door and making phone calls to voters, he said.
In addition, Boeing worker unions are contributing to her campaign fund. This cycle, the IAM political action committee has given her $8,000. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades PAC has contributed $10,000.
Boeing is working to get Murray re-elected, too. The company, with its employees, is the third-largest contributor to Murray in her third term, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Even as she touts helping a company that also is a large contributor, her campaign and Democrats have bashed Rossi for opposing Wall Street reform after taking money from the financial industry.
Murray and Boeing’s relationship is different, Democratic Party chairman Dwight Pelz told reporters recently: The company has created jobs for Murray’s constituents. Unlike Wall Street, “The Boeing Co. didn’t just cause a depression in America,” Pelz said.
Boeing has given Murray at least $90,000 since she was re-elected in 2004, according to the center.
“We’ve been very grateful for her support,” Boeing spokeswoman Susan Bradley said, “and her efforts to bring jobs to Washington.”
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 jordan.schrader@thenews tribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics