As Boeing Slashes Jobs, That Massive Tax Break Is Finally Getting Another Look

The governor and machinist union are sounding much more open to the idea of tying Boeing’s tax breaks to job numbers.

The first time area aerospace Machinists tried to claw back bits of Washington’s ginormous tax break to the Boeing Co., they found themselves up against national leaders of their own union and the governor of the state.

A Boeing 777. Photo by Dako99, via Wikimedia Commons

The next time, they won’t.

Bob Martinez, the new international president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), is publicly backing efforts to redo the deal to tie the tax breaks with Boeing employment levels in Washington.

And Gov. Jay Inslee told members of IAM District Lodge 751 last week that he will work on the issue with them in 2017 — presuming he’s still governor.

It’s quite a climate change since November 2013, when Inslee summoned lawmakers into a special session to approve a deal waiving billions of dollars in future tax payments by the company if it built the new 777X jetliner in the state.

Boeing is doing just that in Everett.

But it’s also been bleeding jobs, starting literally when the ink dried on that tax break: 5,000 trimmed so far, with company execs warning another 4,000 could disappear this year.

In early 2015, the tally of lost jobs hadn’t reached the point where Martinez’s predecessors were acutely concerned.

When local machinists lobbied lawmakers on a bill linking tax breaks with jobs, they heard that a contingent, including former IAM international vice president Rich Michalski, had traveled from Washington, D.C., to Olympia to deliver a completely different message.

“They came out totally against the bill, and then they went around the campus and told everybody else in all four corners of the building the same thing,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish.

When Martinez took charge in January, he wrote lawmakers to let them know things had changed and that Machinists are now united.

“The IAM will speak with one voice in this matter,” he said in an email this week. “Protecting aerospace jobs in Washington state requires more than $8.7 billion in incentives. It requires strong legislation that holds Boeing accountable for preserving jobs.”

In 2015, Inslee didn’t embrace the workers’ legislative effort, either. He didn’t publicly oppose it. However, some union members thought the governor worked behind the scenes to keep it bottled up.

Inslee’s tune is different this year.

In early February, in an address to a crowd that included Boeing officials and aerospace executives, he cautioned of a future reckoning if the decline in jobs persisted.

“I don’t know that anyone has figured out the perfect answer to this problem,” the governor said. “But I do believe that some measure of future job accountability is worth considering, as maintaining and growing our aerospace industry is a priority that I know we all share.”

Last month, Inslee said he would “entertain consideration” of rewriting the 2013 deal, to put in job requirements.

Then last week, in his endorsement interview with District Lodge 751 members, Inslee said he would work on this issue with Machinists and union-represented engineers in 2017.

The Machinists’ political director, Larry Brown, also suggested to the governor, in a half-serious, half-joking way, that he call a special session to tackle the matter — just as he did to get those tax breaks passed in 2013.

“At what point, was my question, do we have time to wait until next year?” Brown said.

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