On the day that Chinese President Xi Jinping toured Boeing's wide-body jet factory in Everett, Boeing announced a deal to sell 300 airplanes to Chinese airlines and leasing companies and build a 737 completion and delivery center in China.
The package of orders and commitments to Chinese companies totals about $38 billion at list prices, though airplanes are usually sold at some discount, especially when many are ordered at once. Boeing said the agreement includes approval of some previous commitments.
In announcing the 737 completion center in China, where Boeing will install interiors and paint planes before delivering them to Chinese customers, Boeing tried to ease concerns of employees in the Puget Sound region that their jobs could be at risk.
"The China-based facility will not reduce 737 Program employment in Washington state," the company said in a statement. Boeing says 737 production in Renton will grow in coming years partly because of strong demand from China.
But some workers remain unconvinced. Machinists and engineers staged protests in Everett as well as outside Boeing's 737 production facility in Renton, saying that legislators need to toughen the state's aerospace tax incentives to prevent Boeing from moving jobs away.
`Jobs As Bargaining Chips'
"They use our jobs as bargaining chips to make deals with everybody and the jobs always come out of Washington state," said Robley Evans, a machinist who's worked for Boeing for 30 years and serves as president of Local F of District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "Boeing's booming and the employment levels in Washington state are coming down because they're giving the work away to all these other states and all these other countries."
The number of Boeing employees in Washington state has dropped by about 4,000 over the past two years. In August, the company's headcount in the state totaled 80,225.
Xi's stop at the plane maker's facility as part of his visit to Washington state shows just how critical China is to Boeing.
About 25 percent of planes built by Boeing this year have been delivered to Chinese customers, and the company says it expects China to be its largest commercial airplane market over the next two decades, with a projected demand for more than 6,300 new airplanes.
Boeing's vice president of marketing, Randy Tinseth, says demand from China is keeping Boeing's 737 production line in Renton humming.
"Today we build 42 737s a month. Without our customers here from China, that rate would be 28 a month," Tinseth said.