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Labor unions looking for uncommon allies in Boeing bid

SAINT LOUIS — Boeing Co., one of the largest employers in the state, is looking for a place to build its newly announced 777X commercial jet. Gov. Jay Nixon and other state lawmakers and business leaders are hoping to pitch Missouri, where 15,000 Boeing jobs already exist, as the home of the new jet.

Any deal would likely require Missouri to offer an incentive package, likely in the form of tax breaks or credits, to Boeing. Some lawmakers have publically supported an incentive package. Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin and House Majority Leader John Diehl, R-Town & Country, both publically supported the idea of an incentive package to draw the new work in. House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he was “bound by law,” to honor any call of a special session.

Rep. John Diehl
Rep. John Diehl

“Boeing has an important, significant presence here as a leading employer and job creator,” Jones says. “The Missouri House is always open to increasing that presence.”

But with the ultimate defeat of the so-called “China hub” tax incentive package in 2011 by conservative lawmakers looking to reduce state expenditures on tax credits, an incentive package is far from a lock.

Jeff Aboussie, Executive Secretary Treasurer of the St. Louis Building and Construction Trades Council says he hoped the opportunity would unite unions with lawmakers who sometimes don’t always agree with them.

“This could be such a huge shot in the arm that I think the economic benefit will bring people together regardless of politics,” Aboussie says. “I hope that we can get a special session together quickly to move on a package, because this kind of deal is exactly what our organization and this city and state need.”

With Boeing looking to make a decision before the end of January, Nixon will have to call a special session of the legislature in order to get the package together in time. While his office has not formally announced a session, a spokesperson says Nixon was going to “aggressively compete” for the project and that calling a special session was on the table.

Sen. Ron Richard
Sen. Ron Richard

The International Association of Machinists, the same labor union that declined a new contract from Boeing with pension changes that would have brought the 777X to Washington state, represents the Boeing assembly line workers in St. Louis. However, the IAM local 837 has not yet declined any arrangement and has publically supported consideration of the contract. One inside source who asked not to be identified discussing and internal matter says the local is currently considering approving the same package that the Seattle local just rejected.

With support from House and Senate leadership, which a special session has, and a precedent for similar action in the past, it might just be a feasible goal. The Missouri legislature came together during 2010 to authorize $150 million total for both Ford Motor Company and General Motors, in 2008, the state came together to offer Bombardier Aerospace a $240 million deal for a plant, which ultimately was built in Canada.