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Will Boeing Strike Help Or Harm Unionized Machinists?

IAM To Boeing: 'It's The Outsourcing, Stupid'

Given the ever-slackening US economy and mass layoffs at several airlines and manufacturers, one would think now wouldn't be the best time for labor unions to take a hard line in demanding better and compensation. For the most part, you'd be right... but workers on strike at Boeing say they have the power.

As we enter the second week of a strike at the American planemaker by some 27,000 workers represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, so far there's little sign either side will budge in their efforts. IAM representatives tell The Associated Press the union is prepared to go the distance in forcing Boeing to sweeten its previous contract offers.

Considering Boeing's record $4.1 billion profit last year, IAM President Tom Buffenbarger says the planemaker can indeed afford to reward the people who assemble its planes.

Mark Blondin, chief negotiator for the IAM in talks with Boeing, adds other unions are watching the IAM strike for pointers on how to take a hard line in labor talks... and most are supportive of IAM's efforts, despite the fact machinists are already some of the best-paid workers in the industry.

In particular, those unions support IAM's efforts to cull Boeing's increasing reliance on outsourced production to overseas companies.

"I've had nothing but encouragement from other unions," Blondin said. "[The strike] raises the bar in the community. It's going to help everybody in this community, if not the country."

Richard Aboulafia, aerospace analyst for the Teal Group, says the specialized nature of the work machinists perform for Boeing gives them additional bargaining clout... as the planemaker cannot produce aircraft without them, nor can they quickly find qualified replacements.

"This is America's last successful major heavy industry," Aboulafia said. "As a result, the workers have a lot more power ... and they're taking advantage of that power."

That's precisely the problem, counters University of Maryland international business professor Peter Morici. He says unions are cutting off their noses to spite their faces, as continued labor strife will only convince Boeing to send more work overseas, where labor actions are few and far between.

"This is a good example of why manufacturing is leaving the country," Morici said. "This is like the UAW in the '50s."

IAM's Buffenbarger maintains the union is working to avoid that very scenario. "This is the time to secure the future," he said. "Somebody's got to break the mold of this outsourcing."

FMI: www.boeing.com, www.goiam.org

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