Workers fight against defense cuts

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates holds a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., where he proposed changes to the defense budget.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Defense Secretary Robert Gates released his fiscal 2010 budget plan yesterday, which means now the real debate can start over which proposals Congress likes. And which ones it doesn't.

Tens of thousands of jobs in at least 44 states are conceivably at risk in the Pentagon plan. They include people who would build a next-generation ship for the Navy. The F-22 fighter jet from Lockheed Martin would be canceled. An Army weapons program from Boeing would be cut back. Marketplace's Mitchell Hartman reports the political opposition has already started, right down at the grassroots.


MITCHELL HARTMAN: Cancellation of the F-22 alone could cost Lockheed Martin and its vendors 25,000 jobs. A factory in Marietta, Ga., would go dark. And as many as 2,000 workers who make engines at Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut would get pink slips. Jim Parent of the Machinists union in East Hartford says they started organizing right away.

JIM PARENT: We put together a handbill for our membership, the workers in the shop, asking them to get a hold of the White House.

Then, there'll be a rally on Thursday with Connecticut's Congressional delegation.

PARENT: Business, we're working with them, and also the Chamber of Commerce. There are a lot of vendors that produce parts, and so I'm sure there'll be no problem getting them to apply some pressure.

And that pressure will fall on receptive ears, says aerospace analyst Scott Hamilton.

SCOTT HAMILTON: Members of Congress are going to be very parochial.

Hamilton points out the pain is spread far and wide, from Georgia to Missouri to Texas to Southern California.

HAMILTON: They look at the number of jobs in their district or their state, and they don't want to see those go away.

In Seattle, the local Machinists union won't lose many jobs, since most of Boeing's defense work is done in other states. But union official Connie Kelliher is already sharpening her message.

CONNIE KELLIHER: It makes it even more important to land this Air Force tanker contract. It would be additional jobs that perhaps some of these people at the other Boeing locations could transfer here.

The Pentagon plans to go ahead with that tanker program. It could be worth $40 to $100 billion to Boeing, or a partnership between Northrup Grumman and Europe's Airbus.

I'm Mitchell Hartman for Marketplace.

About the author

Mitchell Hartman is the senior reporter for Marketplace’s Entrepreneurship Desk and also covers employment.

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