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Alabama Offers Advantages to EADS For KC-X as Boeing Workers Strike

by: Matthew Potter
June 3, 2010

Category: Alabama, Boeing, Business Line, California, commercial aviation, Companies, Congress, Contract Awards, Countries, Department of Defense, development program, EADS, Events, Federal Budget Process, Industry Analysis, logistics, Military Aviation, production program, Proposal, Protest, Services, States, tankers, U.S. Air Force, Washington | RSS 2.0

If EADS’ (EADS:P) American subsidiary wins the contract from the U.S. Air Force for the new aerial they will assemble the basic aircraft at a new facility in Mobile, AL. When they along with Northrop Grumman (NOC) had the short lived contract two years ago to build the KC-45 derivative of the Airbus A330 the plant would have been used then. Once the contract was lost to Boeing’s (BA) protest the plans to use the plant were put on hold.

EADS has already stated that if they executed the contract all A330 transport production would be transferred to America from current European plants. There are several benefits to EADS by doing this. First the weak dollar will help lower costs of materials and production. Secondly Alabama is a right-to-work state and a non-union workforce is almost guaranteed. This will be a big change from the highly unionized and regulated workforces of the company in France, Germany and Spain.

There is currently a movement by both U.S. and foreign companies to move production and other services back to the United States. A good deal of these decisions are being driven by the dollar’s strength and to take advantage of excess capacity.

The Japanese automakers have been doing this for years driven by U.S. requirements for car assembly in the States. Honda, Toyota, Nissan and others have plants primarily in Southern States primarily due to the lack of unions as well as the desire of those states to provide economic assistance and financial incentives. Volkswagon for example has just started production of a large plant outside Chattanooga, TN to illustrate that this process is still on-going.

If a company like EADS is going to produce aircraft for the U.S. military it would make sense to try and assemble these in the U.S. As already demonstrated during the last two years of struggle over the KC-X contract it helps them get Congressional support. The advantage of a non-union workforce will not only help costs but prevent potential issues with labor relations and strikes.

Strikes are one of the most disruptive events that may affect production for the military. The only worst thing is really sabotage. The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (SAC) strike in 2006 affected production of the UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft for the Army and the SH-60 model for the Navy. These aircraft were and continue to be critical to U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The strike was settled after six weeks but it left bad feelings between the company, its unions and customers.

Boeing has suffered several strikes over the past few years. These have not only affected their civil aircraft production but also military products. On Sunday the union representing workers at their St. Louis, MO plants voted to authorize a strike if negotiations don’t resolve contract issues related to seniority. The threat was quickly followed by workers in Kansas where the new Boeing tanker would have some work done.

The workers at the Long Beach, CA facility where the C-17 transport is manufactured have now been on strike for two weeks due to current contract negotiations. This just further illustrates the point that despite the priority of military systems even they may be delayed by the Boeing workforce.

Boeing has moved to counter the reliance on unions by establishing a production facility in South Carolina which is also a right-to-work state. In this way they are mirroring the Japanese automakers and EADS.

At a time when one of the biggest messages in Boeing’s favor is to not delay the KC-X contract any longer by allowing time for EADS to bid or waste time with a competition. If a strike did happen that delayed 767 tanker production once Boeing won the contract it would be a serious black eye for the company and its supporters.

Boeing could try to avoid this by slowly moving production to its South Carolina facility which presumably will be non-unionized but that would antagonize its Washington based Congressional allies. There would also be a cost associated with the move that might increase the cost of the production beyond what the Air Force wants or initially awards. The hope is that the KC-X will use a fixed price contract so Boeing would have to have a good estimate going in and try to limit upfront costs.

EADS by starting out in Alabama avoids the potential issue with a unionized workforce. This should also have mean labor costs for the assembly portion of the aircraft. Score one in the foreign company’s favor.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/alliancenewzealand/ / CC BY-SA 2.0
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  1. Tweets that mention Alabama Offers Advantages to EADS For KC-X as Boeing Workers Strike | Defense Procurement News -- Topsy.com on June 3rd, 2010 2:52 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dagpotter, DefProcureNews. DefProcureNews said: Alabama Offers Advantages to EADS For KC-X as Boeing Workers Strike: If EADS’ (EADS:P) American subsidiary wins th… http://bit.ly/a6iw2U […]

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