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TheStreet Open House

The Truth About Boeing's Biggest Labor Union

Stocks in this article: BAHBCTXT

CHICAGO TheStreet) - The International Association of Machinists has been demonized in the battle over Boeing's (BA) alleged violation of labor law, but the truth is that the union often works side by side with Boeing and other companies where it represents workers.

In fact, last week, IAM President Tom Buffenbarger joined with the business jet industry -- which in recent years has also been demonized -- in a presentation to the International Trade Commission. IAM represents workers at Learjet, Hawker Beechcraft (HBC), Learjet and Textron (TXT) division Cessna.

Tom Buffenbarger

"We worked with IAM to promote a clear and accurate understanding of what business aviation is," said Ed Bolen, president of the National Business Aviation Association. He noted that the business jet industry, centered in Wichita, Kan., produces aircraft that are exported throughout the world.

"It is an industry where the U.S. has long been a primary, if not the primary, builder," Bolen said. "And I think there is a clear sense in the business aviation community that the best way to create jobs in our industry is to promote business aviation."

It's just part of the work Buffenbarger does as president of the union, which has about 700,000 members, including about 400,000 active members and more than 100,000 aerospace workers. "You may think unions and the companies they represent company are at loggerheads all the time," Buffenbarger said, in an interview. "But do you know what really happens to the time between contracts?

At those times, he said, "you can't put a piece of paper between positions of the companies and the unions."

In fact, on multiple occasions, the union has helped Boeing too. The most notable recent case is in lobbying for the contract to build 179 tankers for the Air Force, at an estimated cost of $35 billion. The union was heavily involved in lobbying for Boeing to get the contract, rather than competitor Airbus.

"It's certainly true that the IAM helped us win our bid for the tanker contract, and it demonstrates that we can work together well and effectively when our interests are aligned," said Boeing spokesman Tim Healy. "We also work well with the union on a day-to-day basis, dealing with administering our contract and resolving grievances.

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