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Boeing unions skeptical of realignment

Keywords: Tags  Boeing, Boeing Commercial Airplanes, SPEEA, Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, Airbus SAS, labor union, Frank Haflich

LOS ANGELES — Boeing Co.’s major white- and blue-collar unions have both greeted the company’s realignment of its commercial aircraft engineering operations with wariness.

Chicago-based Boeing said last week that its Boeing Commercial Airplanes subsidiary is establishing separate centers for engineering design in Washington’s Puget Sound area, southern California and South Carolina (, May 31). These centers will compete for future design work on Boeing programs, as well as the job of performing the production work at those locations, according to a company spokesman.

The spokesman told AMM last week that the realignment wasn’t related to the often difficult labor relations that Boeing has had with its major unions in the Northwest in recent years or the South Carolina work force’s prior vote against union representation. "We expect all three of these centers to thrive," he said.

Nevertheless, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), whose more than 23,000 engineering and technical members are located primarily in the Puget Sound area, isn’t happy about the realignment.

"It’s disappointing that such a great company, instead of building a team, looks to promote internal competition between its own employees," a spokesman for the union told AMM, arguing that SPEEA members "have been instrumental in the design and engineering of every successful product Boeing has had since 1946."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for Boeing’s major union of production employees, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), said that it would refrain from commenting before it sees "the fine print" of Boeing’s realignment policy.

But the IAM spokesman did say that, in general, "it’s not unusual for a company to pit workers in one location against workers in another." The union represents nearly 30,000 Boeing employees in the Puget Sound area, while it "doesn’t represent any" in South Carolina, he added.

Some observers said that Boeing’s engineering realignment shouldn’t come as a surprise. James McNerney, Boeing’s chairman, president and chief executive officer, reportedly said at a recent meeting of investors that suppliers who don’t cut their prices won’t be allowed to bid on new Boeing programs.

Aerospace industry sources noted June 3 that aircraft production, as well as supply chain capacity, has been migrating in recent years to the southeastern United States. Boulogne-Billancourt, France-based Airbus SAS broke ground on its first U.S. assembly plant in Mobile, Ala., in April.

While the new southern California engineering design group—which includes plants of the former McDonnell Douglas Corp., acquired by Boeing in 1997—will also compete for future work, one of its main functions will instead be to provide support for Boeing aircraft no longer being built.

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