Exclusive: Union Says It Will Organize Airbus in Alabama, Try Again at Boeing

Tickers in this article: BA
Updated from 6:45 a.m. EST with comments on IAM relationship with Boeing following two contract votes tied to ensuring 777X work for Everett, Wash.

MOBILE, Ala. ( TheStreet) -- The nation's top aerospace union said it isn't put off by the UAW's failure to organize Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tenn. It will seek to organize the planned Airbus plant in Alabama and it will also try again at the Boeing plant in Charleston, S.C.

"I really believe we have a fair chance of pulling this off," said Tom Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists, in an interview. "Our union was founded in the South (and) we already have thousands of members in Alabama." The IAM was formed in Atlanta in 1888, so the "outsider" charged leveled at the UAW in Chattanooga might not stick.

An effort to unionize Airbus, if it occurs, would very likely be the next closely watched indicator of the labor movement's standing in the South. Like VW, Airbus would be expected to refrain from opposing the union, while anti-union interest groups and Alabama Republican politicians -- like Tennessee Republican politicians -- would be expected to campaign stridently against it.

This time, the union would know what was coming. Also, the IAM has some unique advantages. It has regularly lobbied aggressively to help Boeing get defense contracts, so its involvement could be said to benefit Airbus, which has suffered in seeking defense contracts because it is a European company.-

Additionally, the IAM offers members an opportunity to participate in a highly successful, union-administered defined benefit pension plan  at a time when most employers are moving or have moved to 401K plans.

The IAM has not set a timetable to organize in Mobile, although Airbus has started to hire there, or to try again in Charleston, where it has a record of 1-1 in union elections. The union lost a 2009 Boeing unionization vote 199-68, losing its certification at the plant after a smaller group of Boeing Charleston workers voted to join the IAM in 2007.

The IAM has been talking with and seeking support from Airbus executives in Europe for several years, and has also begun to work with Airbus unions in France and German.

"We tell (Airbus) that we are the leading aerospace union in the North America and we would like to get off on the right foot and organize their workers," Buffenbarger said. "We can bring order in the work place: We are a union with a demonstrated history of trying to work out problems and to create an efficient operation, just as Boeing became more proficient because of its skilled work force.

"We can help make them successful, or we can have a knock-down, drag-out fight." he said.