Workers at Boeing's SC plant reject union

IAM's efforts to unionize Boeing workers drew national attention to SC, a state with one of the lowest percentages of union members in the United States.

"We're disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation" said IAM lead organizer Mike Evans Wednesday night.

South Carolina Boeing workers have rejected a push to be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, maintaining southern reluctance toward unionization. The secret-ballot election left the decision in the hands of nearly 3,000 eligible Boeing South Carolina employees.

A win would have given the Machinists, who represent most Boeing factory workers, even more leverage over Boeing in future labor talks. If it fails, it could attempt another vote next year. Tom Risley, Vought's then-chief executive, said he chose SC in part to avoid unions.

The vote comes just two days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the Boeing facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, for the debut of its 787-10 Dreamliner, its latest version of the fuel-efficient midsized aircraft.

The global aviation giant came to SC in part because of the state's minuscule union presence. "Over the past year and a half, management at Boeing has repeatedly failed to make improvements they promised workers".

If successful, the balloting on whether employees should join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers would have sent a significant message to politicians in the region and Washington that workers here want the same protections and benefits as those in other areas. Former Governor Nikki Haley, who is now US ambassador to the United Nations, was among those who voiced strong opposition to the union in 2015.

SC is a right to work state which means workers cant be compelled to join unions, even if the organizations represent them. Only about 52,000 SC workers have union representation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2016 figures. The union petitioned for a vote in 2015 but withdrew it because of what the Machinists called a toxic atmosphere and political interference.

Boeing chose SC for the plant's location in part because it wanted to assure airlines that ordered the new aircraft that there is little chance of a strike. Analysts say the state's anti-union history was a factor in Boeing's investment decisions in the state.

When Boeing took over the plant from Vought in 2009 and offered the enticement of placing the second 787 final assembly line there instead of Everett, the workers ousted the union in a decertication vote. The election was overseen by representatives from the National Labor Relations Board who handled the vote count.

"I'm deeply frustrated and depressed by the result", Slater said.

Boeing, though, has said its SC workers already earn better wages than some of its union employees in the South.

"It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event", said Robinson-Berry.

This story has been corrected to show that 52,000 SC workers have union representation, rather than 1,900.

  • Zachary Reyes