Fight continues for local workers who make fighter jet engines

By Kimberly Holmes – bio | email

EVENDALE, OH (FOX19)  - More than a thousand local jobs are at stake. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill voted to scrap a project on Wednesday afternoon that workers at the GE plant in Evendale are working on right now.

The issue boils down to the chance to make fighter jet engines.

If GE loses government funding for the project, 800 GE employees and 200 local sub-contractors could lose their jobs. Workers we spoke with on Wednesday said the fight isn't over yet.

Matt Louiso is the president of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers union. He said four local union leaders flew to Washington, D.C. on Sunday to speak with lawmakers, all in an attempt to save local workers' jobs, but they returned home empty handed.

"As I left this morning, I had a real good feeling about it," said Louiso. "But about one o'clock, I got home, and got these results and it didn't turn out too good, but that doesn't mean it's over."

Months ago, workers and local lawmakers rallied at the Evendale plant to try to prevent this very scenario.

GE is one of two companies working on the jet engines. The first company is Connecticut-based Pratt and Whitney. The problem is President Obama and Pentagon officials said there's no need for two companies to work on the same idea.

On Wednesday afternoon, the House voted to do just that.

The 233-192 tally was a loss for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, whose state reaped thousands of jobs from the engine, built by the General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce.

It was a big victory for lawmakers from Democrat-dominated Connecticut, where the main F-35 fighter engine is built by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp. Former President George W. Bush had also tried to kill the second engine.

The showdown vote came just hours after Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen testified against the alternative engine before the Armed Services Committee, which has repeatedly backed it.

GE spokesperson Rick Kennedy remained in Washington on Wednesday afternoon. Fox19 spoke with him on the phone about the vote. Kennedy said it is a bad idea to hand over a 20-year, $100-billion project to a single supplier.

"The key is just making people understand that if we don't have this engine we're going to have a sole source monopoly with another engine supplier that's already over budget," Kennedy told Fox19. "It's going to be very costly over time."

Tri-state lawmakers Rep. Jean Schmidt and Rep. Steve Chabot debated the issue on Tuesday night on the house floor. Both members argued in favor of the second engine.

A spokesperson for Rep. Chabot said the program promotes competition which will not only enhance national security, but "save taxpayers $20 billion over the life of the program."

Rep. Schmidt referenced the same point, also adding she believes having a second alternate engine promote will "ensure that our tactical fighter fleet is not grounded due to engine failures."

In a statement, Kennedy wrote: "Engine competition will also improve reliability, safety and contractor responsiveness, as the government learned during the "Great Engine War," involving F-15 and F-16 aircraft. In fact, that "engine war" continues today as nations buying those aircraft benefit from competing engines," Kennedy wrote. "We will continue to press the case for competition as the FY11 budget is finalized and as the FY12 budget debate continues."

The money for the engine was included in a $1.2 trillion spending bill that would make deep cuts while wrapping up the unfinished business lawmakers inherited after last year's collapse of the budget process. That includes $1.03 trillion for agency operating budgets that need annual approval by Congress and $158 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"There's a lot of money funding this engine," said Louiso. "And for that to be pulled out from under the taxpayer's legs, and the members, and the people at General Electric? It's not right."

The Senate still has to vote on the funding amendment. Members aren't expected to take up its version until next month.

The Democratic-controlled Senate supports the second engine. That, combined with Boehner's backing, could yet keep the program alive.

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