Around the country, people are tittering at wacky Seattle, the city that elected an actual socialist to its City Council. But while that close election was playing out, a far more significant local story received no national media attention at all.
It was significant not because it’s an odd political outlier, but because it’s a perfect encapsulation of why so many people from all walks of life hate politicians and our broken, corrupt political system.
Two days after the election — and any possible voter accountability — Gov. Jay Inslee called a surprise special session of the state Legislature. The legislators had no advance warning of the session at all, which is a substantial hardship for some of them, because Washington persists in the quaint 19th-century notion that serving in Olympia should be the same part-time job you can fill after the crops are in for the year. So lots of legislators have other jobs the rest of the year — jobs they can’t just leave at the drop of a hat because, say, King County’s public transit system is about to be gutted, or the state’s schools are grossly underfunded.
But relax: This was far more important than mere transportation for hundreds of thousands of people or educating kids: Boeing wanted tax breaks — lots of them. Like, yesterday.
All in Boeing’s favor
Mind you, it’s not like Boeing needs more taxpayer largesse — it’s an insanely profitable company, with an annual income bigger than most countries’ gross domestic products, and a big chunk of its revenues come from lucrative, non-competitive government contracts. So it’s not like Boeing needs more money; it just wanted more money.
And when Boeing wants something, no matter how many years a cash-strapped state has been pasting together crippling budgets cut far past the bone, the only rational response for Inslee or the state’s 147 senators and representatives, is to bend over, grab their ankles and ask how high they should jump. Yes, that’s both a mixed metaphor and a physical impossibility. But, hey, it’s Boeing asking, so they’ll find a way to get it done.
And so they did: passing and signing into law, in exactly five days, an $8.7 billion, 27-year giveaway — about $456,000 per job created — that becomes the largest state-level, corporate-welfare package in American history. (The additional $2.3 billion Boeing got from our state in 2003 to build the 787 in Everett is also high on the list.)
Exactly 13 of the state’s 147 legislators opposed the deal.
Oh, and Boeing reserves the right to move production at any time anyway. If that sounds a bit troubling, it’s because it is.
Boeing thought its decision over where to build the 777X would be a fine opportunity to try to break its unions for good. And while it was at it, why not extort as much as possible from ever-accommodating local governments? Taxpayer extortion was an easily accomplished afterthought.
The unions weren’t quite so eager to take Boeing’s loaded gun and shoot themselves in the head with it. Even though the machinists’ leadership carefully stayed neutral on Boeing’s proposal, the rank-and-file rejected it 2-1.
Why? Because Boeing wanted a contract “extension” (actually a new, eight-year deal that voided the old one) that froze pay, slashed health-care benefits and eliminated both future and existing pensions.
This, again, is for one of the most insanely profitable companies in the world.
Loyalty to itself
The Machinists’ refusal and Boeing’s inevitable pout have prompted the inevitable political and pundit handwriting about losing good family-wage jobs. This precisely misses the point: Boeing doesn’t want to pay for family-wage jobs.
It has offshored everything it can to subcontractors without losing competitiveness on U.S. government contracts. It’s moved production within the United States to as many non-union states as possible. It has accelerated these policies despite legion problems with supply chain and production delays, quality problems, government fines, ad nauseam.
For Boeing, paying as little as possible in labor costs trumps having a quality product. If Boeing could train Cameroonian monkeys to assemble a 777X, they’d be breaking ground on the new plant outside Douala next week.
Boeing is an enormous global enterprise with no inherent loyalty to the United States, let alone the Puget Sound region.
Inslee hails from this area, and Seattle dominates his party’s legislative caucus; they didn’t even hesitate over Boeing’s extortion. That’s the same Seattle that just voted for a socialist, who’s now drawing flak for an offhand remark that Boeing ought to be owned by its workers.
Maybe, just maybe, that kind of rhetoric wouldn’t come from a newly elected official if the current ones didn’t care more about Boeing’s profitability than their own constituents’ welfare.
GEOV PARRISH is cofounder of Eat the State! He also reviews news of the week on “Mind Over Matters” on KEXP 90.3 FM. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.
[Editor's note: Geov Parrish served as the fundraising and communications director for Kshama Sawant's campaign.]