Monday, November 18, 2013

Feeding at the trough

Boeing is a hugely profitable company. Between them and the European consortium, Airbus, they control most of the market for commercial airplanes. Boeing also does a brisk business as a defense contractor.

But sometimes making money hand over fist isn't enough. Last week the union of Boeing machinists rejected a contract offer that would end their traditional pension plan (and replace it with a 401k) and increase health care costs. As a sweetener, Boeing offered workers a $10,000 bonus if they approved the contract.

Union members voted overwhelmingly to reject the contract offer on the grounds that the new contract would represent serious givebacks to the company. The changes in the company's pension plan are the most insidious. For decades employers assumed the risk on pensions - guaranteeing payouts to their former employees. Back in the 1980's and 1990's employers looked at the piles of cash that were being held to pay these pension obligations and found another way to extract money from the wallets of their employees. The 401(k) was born. Now, instead of the employer assuming the risk to funding the pension fund down the road, the employees are forced to assume the risk of the vagaries of the market. Meanwhile, corporate executives and their shareholders get their rocks off looking at the growing bottom line.

Boeing officials immediately announced that, as a result of the vote, they might have to look elsewhere for a location to manufacture their latest plane. Political "leaders" in Washington then decided to try to rush a vote through the state legislature offering $8.7 billion in tax breaks to the company.

This is on top of a package of tax breaks the state handed over to the company in 2003. For corporations, government largesse is like crack. They keep on coming back for more and more and more.

This is free enterprise at work here in these United States. There is a race to the bottom as companies seek to find locales that will offer up the cheapest labor and the biggest package of tax breaks so they can squeeze out even larger profits. And states and municipalities are only too eager to play the game - never once stopping to think that they may be on the wrong end of the equation some day.

In the meantime, taxpayers are asked to subsidize these bastions of modern-day capitalism while students, the elderly and the poor are asked to make do with less.

It's a nice little irony that those on the right are quick to criticize any government program that's purpose is to assist those in need, but they have no compunction about ponying up billions of dollars to satisfy the greed of corporate executives and their shareholders.

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