Unions, State Lawmakers Protest EADS Tanker Deal

Lawmakers from Washington state and Kansas joined labor leaders to protest the Air Force contract Boeing lost to a European rival, and vowed to stymie the deal in Congress.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawmakers from Washington state and Kansas joined labor leaders on Thursday to protest the massive Air Force tanker contract that Boeing Co. lost to a European rival, and vowed to stymie the deal in Congress.
Organizers of the Capitol Hill rally said the contract would subsidize foreign competitors at the expense of U.S jobs in the aerospace defense industry, particularly in those two states, where much of the work on the tanker would have been performed had Boeing won.
''The Air Force process was so badly flawed that it was skewed to favor one bid,'' said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. ''What should have been a boon to American taxpayers is instead an embarrassment to American taxpayers.''
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the Air Force's decision ''an insult to our workers'' and also raised questions about the fairness of the selection process.
''The rules were changed on Boeing time and time again in order to keep a foreign competitor at the table,'' Murray charged.
Congressional members from the two states have proclaimed outrage ever since the Air Force's decision in February to award a $35 billion contract for refueling tankers to Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. and its U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman Corp.
The award came as a shock to Boeing, which has supplied tankers to the Air Force for nearly 50 years and was widely considered the favorite to win the deal. Boeing filed a formal protest with the Government Accountability Office on March 11 and expects a ruling by June.
Roberts, Murray and six other senators on Thursday sent a letter to President Bush claiming the award sends the wrong signal when at the same time, the U.S. is protesting unfair foreign subsidies to Airbus before the World Trade Organization.
Union leaders on Thursday focused on the potential loss of American jobs.
''We will be sending our tax money to Europe to energize their economy while our economy goes in the tank,'' said Debbie Logsdon, midwest chair of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, the union representing most of Boeing's engineers and technical workers.
Members of Alabama's congressional delegation have defended the selection process, which would result in a tanker assembly plant in Mobile and the creation of 2,000 jobs. Northrop claims it's victory would support at least 25,000 jobs at more than 200 U.S. suppliers, while Boeing says its aircraft would support more than 44,000 jobs at 300 U.S. suppliers.
Reps. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., and Norm Dicks, D-Wash. -- two influential members of the House Appropriations Committee -- are considering legislation to overhaul the procurement process or block funding for the deal.
''There's going to be a price to pay in Congress because we're not going to stand for losing American jobs and paying such a high price,'' Tiahrt warned.
He said Congress has an obligation ''to look at things like maintaining a defense industrial base, how much revenue is lost when you send 19,000 jobs overseas, how much corporate revenue is lost by sending it over to a foreign supplier.''
Dicks said bigger EADS-Northrop Grumman plane would use more fuel, costing the Air Force $30 billion more than the Boeing model over the 40-year life span of plane.
''Congress has a responsibility to correct one of the worst decisions in modern history,'' Dicks said.
Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said that when fuel costs, maintenance and expansion of runways around the world to accommodate the larger plane are added in, the EADS-Northrop Grumman plane would cost billions more than the Boeing plane over its life span. ''It just doesn't add up,'' Cantwell said of the Air Force decision.
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