Update, July 19: Airbus says CGT is fourth Union out of five for Airbus in France, representing about 10 percent of Airbus employees in France.
Update, July 16: We received this from CGT: the union severed ties in 1978.Christian and Jean-Jacques were amused and laughed about the Airbus response.
Only a few days after EADS and Boeing (and the long-shot bid from US Aerospace-Antonov) submitted their bids for the $35bn KC-X contract to supply tankers to the US Air Force, a French union at Airbus declined to endorse the EADS bid.
The Federation des Travailleurs de la Metallurgie, or CGT, holds the position that the French military should buy its equipment from French industry and to be consistent with this position, told us that it understands the “Buy American” approach of Boeing supporters.
Airbus and EADS dismissed the CGT’s view as that held by a minority union concerned about outsourcing and off-shore jobs.
“We want the French industry to supply all equipment to the French military. We understand why American unions believe that US industry should supply the equipment to the US military,” said Jean-Jaques Desvignes and Christian Pilichowski on behalf of FTM CGT, the French metal workers CGT union.
They were in Seattle this week meeting with SPEEA and IAM 751, Boeing’s two principal unions in Puget Sound, and met with selected journalists as well.
“We do not want to take position about the choice of the USAF, this is not our concern,” the union leaders said. “We take the position according to our view of independence of each country and to achieve this goal each air force should rely on its own industry to provide aircraft. (The same is true for the Navy and the Army.)”
Asked directly if this position was an endorsement for the KC-767 bid, the union stood by their statement.
The reaction from Airbus was sharp.
Rainer Ohler, an Airbus spokesman in Europe, said:
“The CGT is a small, minority union with traditional ties to the French Communist Party. It doesn’t speak for the majority of Airbus employees but, rather, a small minority. This union has something in common with Boeing and its surrogates, however: a very national and narrow view of competition.”
One observer says the CGT cut its ties to the Communist Party following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
“CGT cut all formal ties with the French Communist Party in the early 1990s (when much of the European left was realigning itself after the collapse of soviet totalitarian communism).” This same observer said CGT was the largest union at EADS’ French facilities.
An Airbus spokesman in the US, Clay McConnell, said that CGT’s view actually supports the EADS position that the KC-45 tanker will be built by Americans, contrary to the claims by Boeing and its supporters that the KC-45 will be built by Europeans. McConnell called the CGT’s position a “tempest in a teapot.”
“Any concerns voiced by this particular union (a minority one within the company) about Airbus’ growth in Mobile only underscore the fact that the KC-45 will be built there by Americans. Furthermore, the reality is that the KC-45 will, in fact, support as many American jobs as the other guy’s tanker would. Nonetheless, isn’t the competition really about which aircraft the Pentagon judges as the best one for the U.S. Air Force?”
Guy Hicks, EADS-North America spokesman, said, “These guys are all about outsourcing.”
Indeed, the CGT, IAM and SPEEA all have worried about outsourcing and Airbus and Boeing establishing production lines outside their home countries or Washington State. Each has expressed concern over quality control and loss of technical knowledge at the core competency.
Airbus and EADS say that majority of the Airbus unions support the tanker bid. The debate over jobs is also very similar, with CGT concerned about losing tanker jobs to America if the KC-45 is built in Mobile and the Boeing tanker supporters concerned about losing American jobs to Europe if EADS wins the contract.
EADS and Boeing each claim their tanker will support more than 45,000 direct and indirect jobs in America.
The topic of outsourcing is highlighted in the following two items that coincidentally surfaced this week, entirely unrelated to the CGT visit to Seattle. The first is this 20 page study about engineering outsourcing by Accenture. Free registration is required to download it.
The second is an interview in The Engineer magazine with Charles Champion, of Airbus.
What is the effect of CGT’s position? Effectively, nil. The USAF won’t pay attention to it. Airbus and EADS will, like Boeing, put assembly lines where ever they see fit. But this might become yet another talking point on both sides in the continuing PR campaign.