Unions Fight Back Against Boeing Amid Norwegian Airline Controversy
Boeing, the airplane manufacturing giant, has always had a somewhat dynamic relationship with the union workers who assemble and crew their airliners. On the one hand, they rely on the skilled labor of machinists, pilots, and flight crews who literally keep their planes aloft, on the other hand, high research, manufacturing, and fuel costs keep them on the lookout for a lucrative deal.
For the last two years, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation has kept just such a deal in limbo. Norwegian Air International, a European budget airline headquartered in, despite the name, Ireland — the world's foremost tax haven— is desperate to stake a claim in US airspace. And Boeing is desperate to sell them new, costly 787 Dreamliners. The development of which, by the way, is reported to have cost the company $32 billion over the last decade.
If you take this deal at face value, like Boeing wants you to, it seems like a good thing for American aerospace workers, after all, they're the ones who have to build the things. But IAM intl. (the international association of machinists and aerospace workers) virulently disagrees with this conclusion. In a message published on their website, the union states fears that the airline will rent out jobs to low wage southeast Asian contractors. They go on to accuse the airline of dodging Norway's strict labor laws by headquartering the company in Ireland.
Boeing has responded to this criticism, saying that union jobs in Washington state and South Carolina will be at risk if the deal falls through. Saying in a statement on their website “It’s disappointing that IAM leadership and congressional members are hurting a key customer and undermining Boeing jobs.” “We already face significant competitive headwinds without this harmful effort putting even more jobs at risk.” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has called Boeing's response “more anti-union saber-rattling by this corporate giant.” The fear of both IAM and AFL-CIO is that introduction of unfair competition will drive wages down across the board, crashing the advancements unions have made in wages and benefits since the recession.
And their concerns are not unjustified, given Boeing's rocky history with the unions; including a bizarre anti union smear campaign involving table toppers in Boeing's North Charleston plant. Not to mention anti union statements made by the director of Boeing South Carolina. When you combine all this with the radio ads run by the governor of South Carolina, advertising the state as a regulation-free corporate paradise, the unions have good reason to be on edge.
Regardless of all the controversy, the point may be moot. Because the DOT actually gave Norwegian Airlines tentative approval back in April. Still the unions have considerable muscle, in addition to their own, from Democrats like Hillary Clinton who are putting together legislation to block the deal for good. For now the stalemate appears to continue, with arguments on both side heating up, and no one making much headway. Still, the outlook for Boeing and Norwegian Airlines isn't exactly rosy.
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