Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Boeing, IAM, IAMAW, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, labor unions, Mark Blondin, public relations, strike, Tim Healy
There are classic battles between unions and employers all across the country, and each side uses carefully chosen words to characterize their own positions as logical and just, and the other side’s arguments as unreasonable or morally bankrupt. A good example of this ongoing combat is the Boeing strike by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW).
The core of the IAMAW’s complaint against Boeing is job security, while the core of Boeing’s messaging rejoinder is “we need flexibility for success.” The union says that Boeing’s use of “contingent” workers (folks on short-term contracts who receive lower pay and benefits) to do jobs that were once the union’s territory is making union jobs less secure. Boeing counters that these contingent workers can be hired or fired easily, which gives the company the flexibility to up-size or down-size, while maintaining a steady core of unionized workers who have job security.
To determine which side makes the best case, most people would look at the question, “Which argument do I agree with most?” But for a public relations professional, the key to which side is “winning” lies in the target audiences they’re addressing.
For Boeing, there are multiple audiences listening: shareholders (who want to know the company will remain successful), union workers (who want job security with good pay and benefits), contingent workers (who want to know there will be work for them), and the workforce at-large, both unionized and non-unionized (and who knows what they want?).
For the union, the audiences are similar, but I don’t imagine they care much about Boeing shareholders or contingent workers. Workforce at-large, absolutely. Boeing management, definitely. And let’s add lawmakers, who can pass laws that force companies to provide certain benefits to workers. So what does the union say? According to this story, the union’s chief negotiator, Mark Blondin, says the union wants a chance to prove they can be just as efficient as the contingent workers, or even more so. That’s followed immediately by the threat of maintaining the strike for as long as they don’t get their way. That speaks to workers and the union’s membership.
Blondin also is quoted thus:
“Boeing wants to circumvent its unionized workforce, and that doesn’t sit well with our members,” Blondin says. “They don’t like what they’re seeing down the road.”
And although this hits their core audience (union members), I don’t think it resonates with any other audiences, and that could be a problem. Without broader support, Boeing is not going to feel any pressure to yield to union demands, and that broader support does not seem to be forthcoming.
A look at some basic statistics could explain why: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union workers accounted for about 12 percent of the U.S. workforce last year, and that figure has been steadily declining for decades. This means that 88 percent of U.S. workers don’t have the kind of pay, benefits, and job security bargaining power that unions do, so it’s an alien concept from the get-go. Another factor working against them in terms of target audiences is that contingent workers – the root of the IAMAW’s argument with Boeing – comprise about 30 percent of the total workforce, according to the above-linked msnbc story. That makes the uphill battle even tougher.
Now let’s look at Boeing’s messaging: Boeing spokesman Tim Healy says that the contingent workers are one of the factors that have helped the company become so successful, and that, “It doesn’t make sense to change the rules that have allowed us to be successful.” And he adds:
“Boeing has a history of pretty dramatic swings in hiring people and laying off people, so one of the things that outsourcing does is allows us to retain the core most experienced, most skilled people we need and make sure their jobs are going to continue,” he says.
So all at once, Healy addresses issues that are the concern of shareholders (“we want to stay successful”), union workers (“some job security is better than none”), contingent workers and workers at-large (“hey, I don’t have a guaranteed job; why should they?”). And, Boeing must recognize that unions in general – and the IAMAW in particular – are on the decline, and has tailored its rhetoric accordingly. If that weren’t the case, they wouldn’t continue holding their line even in the face of a strike that is costing them huge piles of money.
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