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Airbus expects unions to target A320 FAL in Alabama

Airbus already has developed a strategy to counter an internally expected move by labour unions to organize the A320 final assembly line that opens later this year in Alabama.

“I don’t think there’s any question that organised labour will want to try to approach our employees there,” Alan McArtor, chairman and chief executive of the US-based Airbus Group Inc., tells Flightglobal in an interview.

Airbus selected the Brookley Field complex in Mobile, Alabama, in July 2012 to establish the A320 programme’s fourth final assembly line, joining facilities in Toulouse, Hamburg and Tianjin. Added “labour flexibility”, compared to the company’s European sites, was given as one reason for the decision at the time, but Airbus also has said the US line can help improve its balance sheet by delivering aircraft closer to a growing list of customers in North America.

Meanwhile, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) has targeted Boeing’s workforce in North Charleston, South Carolina, where Boeing established a final assembly line for the 787 shortly after a 2008 strike by union labour in the Puget Sound area. The IAM petitioned the National Labor Relations Board on 16 March to allow Boeing workers to vote on whether to organise.

Since January, the IAM has also moved to highlight its presence in Alabama, where it already represents aerospace workers employed by the United Launch Alliance, Boeing and L-3 Communications. The IAM launched a new web site, AlabamaAero.org, specifically calling out the $160 million in tax breaks and incentives to Airbus as “corporate welfare”.

“With so much focus right now on making sure the Airbuses and Commercial Jets of the world have what they need, it’s imperative to ensure that the workers who are building the actual products that are going to help these companies make history don’t get lost in the shuffle,” IAM International President Tom Buffenbarger said in a January news release announcing the new web site.

“Usually, if a company gets a union it basically deserves it. They failed to create an atmosphere and communications link with employees,” McArtor says.

The Airbus business case for the Mobile final assembly line does not rely on whether workers decide to organise, McArtor says, but the company will seek to avoid a labour presence.

“I think unions are unnecessary if you have the right kind of rapport and communications and fair treatment of your employees,” McArtor says.

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