Analysis: Labor issues continue to challenge aerospace industry
By Bryan Corliss
Sept. 18, 2023, © Leeham News – One of the continuing themes we’re hearing – at investor presentations and on quarterly earnings calls – is the shortage of skilled labor, which is disrupting deliveries up and down the aerospace industry supply chain.
The inability of suppliers to deliver parts on time – or to deliver correctly assembled parts – is hampering the OEMs as they attempt to ramp up production to meet high demand from airlines.
This is not just an issue affecting aerospace. There’s a general shortage of medium- and high-skill workers in the Western world right now, with shortages of every kind of worker from line cooks to truck drivers. Shortages existed prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, and there’s still strong demand, even with economies slowing as central banks move to tamp down inflation.
The issue is more pronounced in industries that rely on high-skill workers – like aerospace.
One outcome of this worker shortage is a rise in union activism. In aerospace, we’ve seen the strike by the International Association of Machinists against Spirit AeroSystems this summer, and the near strike by members of the same union against Boeing’s defense business in and around St. Louis last year.
Next year, both Spirit and Boeing will be back at the bargaining table; Spirit to negotiate with members of SPEEA, the union for aerospace engineers, while Boeing holds talks with IAM District 751, which represents hourly workers at the company’s plants in Puget Sound and Oregon.
IAM 751, in fact, is urging members to prepare for what it’s describing as a September 2024 contract vote that will “forever change the aerospace industry.”
The environment seems to be favorable to the unions, for reasons we’ve discussed before. However, with the OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers heavily in debt (and currently bleeding red ink), there’s going to be a limit to what the companies will be willing to offer in a bid to satisfy their labor forces.
- Demand for workers remains strong
- Lack of skilled labor is hurting industry
- Boeing, Spirit aren’t strong financially
- UAW strike bellwether for next year’s talks