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Manufacturing Jobs in Connecticut Threatened by Outsourcing

Posted on March 2, 2010

According to Charles Zien, the president of United Tool and Die in West Hartford, thousands of manufacturing jobs in Connecticut are at risk if the Pentagon considers outsourcing Boeing to French manufacturer Airbus.

In a blog on the Hartford Courant.com, Zien states, Connecticut’s defense industry might not be the jobs engine it once was, but Pratt & Whitney, Electric Boat and Sikorsky and hundreds of smaller suppliers remain a critical part of our economic mix.

In fact, Zien says, our continued reliance on the defense industry demands that we keep an eye on the Pentagon’s procurement decisions and how they affect our state. Case in point: the controversial competition between America’s Boeing Corp. and Europe’s Airbus to build a new airborne refueling tanker for the Air Force.

Zien says you might not think of Boeing as a Connecticut company, but more than 250 Connecticut firms — including my own — work with the aircraft-maker and provide components that go into its airplanes. Boeing’s purchases from Connecticut firms alone total more than $1.1 billion. For example, my company, West Hartford’s United Tool and Die, manufactures aerospace tube and duct and sheet metal that go will go into the Air Force’s next refueling tanker — if the Pentagon chooses Boeing as the contractor.

The Pentagon, however, is considering outsourcing the tanker contract to French aerospace manufacturer Airbus, which might endanger as many as 4,000 Connecticut manufacturing jobs that would be supported by an American-made aircraft. Putting these jobs at risk could deal our state’s economy a devastating blow.

Zien says the argument for Boeing and against Airbus isn’t one of just “America first” protectionism; it’s a matter of free trade law. According to the World Trade Organization, which mediates disputes between countries, European nations illegally subsidized the aircraft that Airbus wants to sell the Air Force — the A330 — to the tune of $5 billion. That gives Airbus an unfair competitive advantage over Boeing. Consequently, the 4,000 Connecticut jobs and the $185 million in economic activity that a Boeing-built tanker would provide might fade like the contrails of a jet engine in the sky.

Although it’s a foreign company, Airbus understands the ins and outs of an old-fashioned American public relations campaign. It’s enlisted a front man in the United States — Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman — to give the French tanker an American accent. But if you listen to Airbus executives when they speak to European audiences, they promise thousands of jobs for people in Germany, Spain and France and none for Connecticut’s workforce. In contrast, a Boeing-built tanker would support 50,000 American jobs at a time when our economy could use a shot in the arm.

According to Zien, Airbus has also enlisted an army of lobbyists who are now marching on the Capitol. They’re telling members of Congress that taxpayers should still buy half of the tankers from Airbus, even if the plane is illegally subsidized, and even if the Pentagon doesn’t want it. It’s an absurd position that could end up costing taxpayers $2 billion more each year of the contract, but it’s actually being seriously considered by some in Congress.

Thankfully, Sen. Christopher Dodd and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have made clear that they don’t want to see Connecticut jobs outsourced or taxpayers fleeced with the purchase of Airbus’ illegally subsidized tanker.

Connecticut defense workers are justifiably proud of their contributions to America’s defense. They’ll be justifiably angry if Airbus is allowed to steal their jobs by cheating its way to victory in the tanker competition. The solution is to ensure that the Pentagon accounts for Airbus’ illegal subsidies when it weighs bids from the French firm and from Boeing. That way, Airbus can’t cheat, taxpayers won’t get ripped off and 4,000 Connecticut workers won’t become victims of unfair trade.