SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. aerospace unions stayed largely quiet on Monday as Europe’s Airbus announced plans to build its first airliner assembly plant in Mobile, Alabama, free of union representation.
Some welcomed the creation of jobs on U.S. shores, but expressed wariness that non-union work would drive down wages across the board in one of the last bastions of U.S. manufacturing.
“It’s positive that Airbus is actually building a facility,” said Paul Shearon, Secretary-Treasurer of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, a Washington, D.C.-based umbrella group for U.S. and Canadian engineering unions.
“But I think it’s extremely unfortunate that a company that has been as successful as Airbus with a fully unionized workforce is choosing to go to a ‘right-to-work’ state to build that plant. It doesn’t make sense.”
Airbus, part of European aerospace group EADS, unveiled plans to build its first U.S. factory in Mobile, Alabama, on Monday, which it said would create some 1,000 jobs [ID:nL2E8I24XV].
Alabama is one of the two dozen U.S. states which uphold so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws, which prohibit compulsory membership of a union, making it very hard for a union to represent workers there.
Boeing Co’s commercial aircraft unit made its biggest move into union-free manufacturing last year, when it opened a final assembly plant in South Carolina, also a ‘right-to-work’ state.
That move incensed unions in Boeing’s heartland in the Puget Sound area around Seattle and led to a bitter legal battle between the company, workers and the National Labor Relations Board that was eventually settled with a four-year labor agreement [ID:nN1E7AT23A].
“Non-union employees aren’t good for any workforce. It has a tendency to bring down wages,” said Bill Dugovich, a spokesman for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents more than 25,000 engineers at Boeing, or ex-Boeing, plants in the United States.
The country’s biggest and most combative aerospace union - the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers - did not return calls requesting comment on Airbus’ plans.
The IAM represents 45,000 current and former Boeing aerospace workers in the Puget Sound region and has been the most vocal in opposing Boeing’s move toward non-union labor. (Editing by Andre Grenon)