Jilted by Boeing, Wichita workers feel duped

Boeing employees work on the cockpit of a Boeing 777 at the Boeing Wichita plant, August 18, 2004 in Wichita, Kansas.
Photo by Larry W. Smith/Getty Images

WICHITA, Kan. - Manufacturing has been the lifeblood of Wichita, Kansas. One of every five planes built in the U.S. was made there. But folks in Wichita say Boeing doublecrossed them when it announced plans to shut down the factory in town.

Boeing has produced planes in Wichita since the 1920's, employing generations of workers like Ted Bates -- an engineer for 34 years.

But now employees like Bates are shaking their heads at how Boeing's treated their hometown.

"You lose respect for those people who can't keep a consistent story. It's not just about employees; it's about a community," Bates told CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Ted Bates worked for 34 at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas
Ted Bates worked for 34 years at the Boeing plant in Wichita, Kansas CBS

In 2008, Boeing asked Kansas officials to help win a $3.5 billion contract for 18 Air Force tankers. Wichita's Mayor Carl Brewer says Kansas had a long history of coming through for Boeing. In fact, Axelrod notes that Boeing received 650 tax breaks over the last 30 years and $3.5 billion dollars in bonds.

"That is an awful lot of money. We thought that meant something to them but obviously in today's environment it didn't," Brewer said.

Brewer and the Kansas congressional delegation lobbied the Pentagon hard. In return Boeing promised the tanker work would be kept in Wichita, saving 2,100 jobs and creating 7,500 more.

Brewer told Axelrod that Boeing promised to stay in Wichita and that he was told "it's gonna be just like it's been for the past 84 years."

All that lobbying paid off. Last February Boeing was awarded the $3.5 billion contract. No one here heard another word until November when, out of the blue, Boeing said it was rethinking its plans.

The company announced it was moving the tanker work out of Kansas to other U.S. plants and closing its Wichita operation next year.

Watch: Boeing to shut down Kansas factory
Boeing to close Wichita facility by end of 2013

"The decision to close Boeing Wichita is substantial and will impact the skilled men and women who work here and their families we do not take this decision lightly," Boeing VP Mark Bass said.

As for Brewer, he says he feels duped.

"You can't help but feel that way because come 2013, I'll have 2,100 workers out here that are trying to figure out what they're going to do," Brewer said. "Plus 7,500 jobs that will not come here."

Brewer -- who worked for Boeing for 20 years -- would love an explanation from the company. Trouble is he can't get his calls returned.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.