A union organizing effort affecting HAECO Cabin Solutions began Wednesday, officials with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers confirmed Thursday.
The union has accepted a petition from employees and notified the company. HAECO could not be reached for comment.
It is not clear how many employees could be represented by IAM. Employees, who did not want to be identified for fear of an adverse effect on their jobs, said it could be as many as 180 at facilities in Greensboro, High Point and Wallburg.
At last count, HAECO had about 2,000 employees at those operations.
IAM official Adams DeLane said a potential vote on union representation could take place “in a few weeks. A date has not been set.”
“This is the first step in the process to help HAECO America workers gain dignity in the workplace and create better lives for their families,” IAM lead organizer Michael Evans said.
“We hope the company chooses to respect the process and allow workers to vote without intimidation. These workers are proud of the products they make at HAECO and want to continue making HAECO America a leader in the aerospace industry.”
DeLane said he understand HAECO employees were encouraged to pursue union representation following IAM’s involvement with Boeing employees in South Carolina.
The cabin-solutions division provides interiors design, engineering, certification and cabin reconfiguration services, as well as manufactured products including passenger seating, structures, galleys and lavatories.
It would be the first high-profile union organizing effort in the Triad since October 2011 and the last failed initiative involved R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.’s production and maintenance employees.
Reynolds employees rejected union representation for the third time in 6½ years at that time, but IAM and the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union gained 45 percent of the vote.
Michael Walden, an economics professor at N.C. State University, has said North Carolina, “by most measures, has the least unionization of any state.”
Keith Debbage, a geography and business school professor at UNC Greensboro, said IAM’s efforts “could prove to be a double-edged sword.”
“While it is possible that happier employees may enhance labor retention and cut costs, more expensive employees may hurt HAECO’s competitive advantage moving forward.
“It is hard to predict the eventual outcome but given North Carolina’s history regarding labor-management relations and unions, the initiative may eventually flounder,” Debbage said,
The IAM union organizing effort comes about six weeks after HAECO Cabin Solutions celebrated two seating lines made in Wallburg gaining Airbus’ seal of approval for inclusion in its supplier catalog.
HAECO’s Vector lines for Airbus’ A320 and A350 aircrafts are now included in the catalog, which gets updated once a year in July.
Airbus typically provides customers with the airplane shell and offers a catalog of recommended suppliers from which airlines can customize their interiors.
HAECO officials declined to say at the Airbus announcement how many employees it expects to add at the 120,000-square-foot plant off Gumtree Road. It had about 300 employees there in June 2016 when it gave media tours of the Vector seating expansion.
The Cabin Solutions division designs, engineers, tests, assembles and certifies the Vector brand in Wallburg. The seats feature carbon-fiber construction, which simplifies the production process and reduces raw material and production costs.
The catalog placement could be a big boost for HAECO and the Wallburg plant given that Airbus has a current backlog of orders for 7,793 planes, said John Marcheschi, director of procurement for Airbus Americas. The company estimates there could be up to 35,000 new planes ordered globally by 2038.
“Business is good for airlines, so that means business is good for Airbus and hopefully will be good for your company,” Marcheschi said.
Addressing the HAECO employees at the presentation, Marcheschi said “you should expect to be challenged by global competition, and you will have to respond with innovation, performance and on time with quality.”
“This is the marketplace today, very demanding, but we believe you can meet these demands.”
Debbage said the Airbus contract “is a huge deal” for HAECO.
“It’s hard to overestimate its potential impact. Airbus is, of course, a major player, and the A320 in particular, is one of the best-selling plane models in the world,” Debbage said.
“It is heavily used by many major airlines, including American Airlines. It gives HAECO tremendous additional exposure. It’s a big plus for the Triad.”