AUBURN — America’s aerospace industry needs federal government support if it is to train the 20,000 workers it will need in the next decade, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said.
“I guarantee you my No. 1 priority is that we remain the hub of the aerospace industry right here in Washington state,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell spoke to a crowd of about 75 union members and local activists at Machinists Union District Lodge 751‘s Auburn Union Hall on Oct. 26 as part of her statewide “Jobs for Washington” tour.
Cantwell made her remarks after Machinists Union Steward Andrew Dennis told the crowd about the struggles he had finding work after he returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.
“I returned to a broken system,” Dennis said. “All I got were empty thank-you’s.”
Machinists District President Tom Wroblewski introduced Cantwell, and praised her support for Washington’s aerospace industry. She was “instrumental” in helping Boeing win a contract to build 179 KC-46 tankers to the U.S. Air Force, he said.
And Cantwell has played a major role to help train a new generation of aerospace workers to replace soon-to-retire Baby Boomers, Wroblewski said, citing her help securing federal funds for a composites manufacturing research center, for workforce training at community colleges and her support for manufacturing apprenticeships.
Making sure Boeing and its suppliers have enough trained workers is “vital to our local economy and national security,” Wroblewski said.
One potential source of aerospace workers could be veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, Wroblewski said. But the federal government needs to do more to help vets find good jobs.
“There’s more to thanking our veterans than slapping a yellow ribbon on the backs of our SUVs,” he said.
Unfortunately, that’s about the extent of many people’s support.
Dennis told the crowd about his military experience. He joined the U.S. Army out of high school, and trained to be a medic, intending to make the military his career. But during his first deployment to Iraq, he was bombed three times and shot once. After all that, he was sent home.
Once out of the Army, the civilian world heaped insults on his wartime injuries. His voice choking, an emotional Dennis recounted his struggles.
“It took me three-and-a-half years to find a job,” he said. “No one would hire me. They thought I was broken.”
At long last, Dennis found work at Boeing, and after two years, he’s become a second-shift union steward, working on 787s in Everett.
Cantwell is one of the few real advocates veterans have in Congress, Dennis said. “When I see people like Maria Cantwell actively supporting us, instead of making empty promises, it makes you feel really good.”
Cantwell — who was visibly moved by Dennis’ story — said that the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress had tried to push through a bill that would give tax breaks to companies that hire returning veterans, only to have Republicans derail it.
“We do owe you,” she told Dennis. Cantwell said she supports expanding current aerospace apprenticeship programs so that returning veterans can earn a paycheck while they learn manufacturing skills.
Along with money for worker training, Cantwell said the aerospace industry needs more funding for research into composites manufacturing and biofuels for airlines. Both of those things would help Washington-based aerospace companies win new business and create more jobs.
Cantwell urged everyone to rally voters who will support Democratic candidates in the upcoming election.
“That’s what this election is about — it’s about people, and it’s about jobs,” Cantwell said.
“If we want to stay competitive, we have to invest in people,” she added. “I guarantee Mitt Romney has a different view of the world.”
Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at the Boeing Co., District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 32,000 working men and women in Washington, Oregon and California. In December 2011, District 751 members ratified a four-year contract extension with Boeing that ensured the 737 MAX will be built in Renton.