At a Boeing contractor in Portland, workers vote whether to go union

Boeing hangars at the Portland airport, where contracted workers paint Boeing planes.
Boeing hangars at the Portland airport, where contracted workers paint Boeing planes.

About 180 nonunion workers who paint commercial aircraft at the Portland airport will vote July 7 and 8 on whether to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

The workers paint brand-new Boeing aircraft prior to delivery to Boeing customers — in a pair of aircraft hangars that Boeing leases from the Port of Portland. And they work alongside about a dozen Boeing employees. But they themselves are not Boeing employees.

Instead, they work for a subcontractor called Commercial Aircraft Painting Services (CAPS), which is listed in Oregon corporate records as owned by Paul and Rhona-Joy Lubomirski. Paul Lubomirski owns a similar company in Louisiana known as Aviation Exteriors, Inc. (AvEx).

IAM represents about 30,000 Boeing workers, but in recent years the company has shifted work to contractors and non-union locations.

NOW [AND ALWAYS] HIRING: $11.50 an hour. Hazardous chemicals. 12-hour-long graveyard shifts.

At CAPS, employees work four or five 12-hour shifts a week with a one-hour unpaid break each day, and they rotate between graveyard and day shift every few weeks. The work involves hazardous chemicals, and turnover is high. According to one informed estimate, the company is hiring about 140 workers a year; given a crew of 180, that amounts to almost 80 percent annual turnover. Workers say the “Now Hiring” sign at the entrance never gets taken down. Wages start at $11.50 an hour for safety spotters and top out at $22.44 for the most senior painters. That’s a lot less than what Machinist-represented Boeing employees are paid for the same work in Everett, Washington, says Machinists District Lodge W24 representative Will Lukens: A typical worker there starts at $19 and tops out at $41.79 an hour. CAPS provides basic employee-only health insurance at no charge to workers, but charges $100 a week for family health insurance. Paid time off, which folds sick leave together with vacation, totals just 56 hours a year, and there are no paid holidays. The company does make annual profit-sharing contributions to 401(k) retirement accounts amounting to 5 percent of gross wages for workers who’ve been there more than two years.

Pro-union workers say they want pay and benefit improvements, but also clearer paths to advancement. And they want to be treated with greater respect and dignity by management.

The union campaign began in mid-March when a CAPS worker called IAM. Lukens said the union’s June 13 request that the National Labor Relations Board hold an election seemed to take the company by surprise.

The week after IAM requested an election, the company launched an anti-union campaign led by outside consultants. The campaign follows the tried-and-true blueprint for busting a union: Workers are brought in for small group meetings and barraged with fear-inducing messages. If they unionize, the company might lose its contract with Boeing and they’ll all be out of a job. If they unionize, the company might just say no to everything, and they’ll get nothing. If they unionize, they might have to go on strike, and they’ll all be replaced.

Why hire a union busting firm instead of respecting workers’ right to decide the union question on their own? CAPS president Paul Lubomirski declined to return a call from the Labor Press.

2 Comments on At a Boeing contractor in Portland, workers vote whether to go union

    • Unfortunately now the contractor has had to raise his prices and has lost its contract with Boeing. No winners here other than the French contractor that now has the contract with Boeing. Unless the new contractor hires over half the former contractors employees they don’t have to recognize the union.

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