Leas: The issue isn’t just jobs; the issue is wages

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer from South Burlington.

According to the latest Air Force report about F-35 basing, 730 traditional Vermont Air National Guardsmen earn an average of only $3,786.89 per year (that is not a misprint: see page BR4-78). These jobs are a fraction of a fraction of part time: one weekend a month plus two weeks a year.

“Jobs” is not a lousy argument for supporting the F-35 just because the pay for most of our Air Guardsmen is so lousy: the Air Force report says no jobs are at risk: “if there is no F-35A operational beddown at Burlington Air Guard Station (AGS) the current mission would continue” (page PA-47). In April, 2013, the Air Force announced it was upgrading all of the F-16s to keep them flying until the F-35 is fully operational. The Air Force stated it intends to keep the F-16s flying until at least 2030. So Burlington does not need the F-35 to keep the 400 full-time jobs or the 730 part-time “jobs.”

Vermonters highly value our Guardsmen for protecting our homes from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other disasters that climate change is bringing. F-35s are useless for those jobs.


The jobs argument is lousy for yet another reason. Vermonters highly value our Guardsmen for protecting our homes from hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other disasters that climate change is bringing. F-35s are useless for those jobs.

And another reason: Vermonters do not want our Guardsmen to have jobs that make thousands of homes in Winooski, Burlington, South Burlington and Williston “unsuitable for residential use” (page C-12). And that cause Vermonters to lose home value (page C-50). And suffer hearing loss, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive impairment of their children (page BR4-33). Not even good jobs with good pay are worth sacrificing even one house or one child’s health. But for jobs earning so little, we would be beyond crazy to sacrifice so much to bring the F-35 bomber.

And another reason: Time and again in town meetings Vermonters voted overwhelmingly to bring our soldiers and airmen home from Iraq. Vermonters do not want our Vermont Guardsmen to go thousands of miles away to make war for oil.

And another: The F-35 program is transferring $1.45 trillion from the public to Lockheed Corp. The program is so chock full of corruption that even the Pentagon is considering canceling the F-35.

And another: Noise produced by F-16s is the sole reason a thriving neighborhood of 200 affordable homes near the airport entrance is being demolished. The Air Force says “the contribution of civilian aircraft” to noise at the Burlington airport is “negligible compared to the military aircraft contribution” (Page BR4-33).

Commercial real estate developers found they could still use the land for commercial development, like hotels, that can be designed for higher noise levels than homes can. Money for themselves is the real reason these developers love military jet noise and support F-35 basing. Jobs is mere pretext.

The public and our Vermont National Guard members have good reason to join in speaking out against basing the F-35 in Vermont and demanding future National Guard jobs that protect Vermont from the ravages of global warming (and the ravages of commercial real estate developers). Let’s all join in demanding a mission for the Vermont Air Guard that protects our Vermont homes and families. And when they are doing such work, let’s join in demanding that they be paid very well indeed.


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