Machinists seek union election at SC Boeing plant

Would pertain to 2,500 production workers who assemble the company's 787 Dreamliner.

March 17, 2015   by The Canadian Press

CHARLESTON, SC — The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers is asking a federal agency to set an election so more than 2,400 Boeing production workers in South Carolina can vote on whether to form a union.

In a statement, the union said a petition was filed Mar. 16 with the National Labor Relations Board. The union said a significant number of Boeing workers signed authorization cards.

The NLRB would set election dates.

Gov. Nikki Haley opposes unions and has urged Boeing workers to reject unionization efforts. Union organizer Mike Evans has called on Haley to remain neutral leading up to the vote.

Boeing last month opened a propulsion plant in North Charleston and employs about 7,500 people in South Carolina.

Boeing says a union is not in the interests of workers, the company or the state.

Under National Labor Relations Board rules, 30% of the workers in a potential union bargaining unit must sign authorization cards for an election to be held, said Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers.

“We are confident we have achieved the minimum requirement and now the board will determine the exact number of people eligible to vote and then they will set and conduct the election,” he said.

The exact number of those who signed authorization cards is not released, he said.

Boeing officials did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

“It’s important often for workers at a successful company to have an opportunity to express themselves as it is if they are working at a company in trouble,” Larkin said. “Boeing has this ugly practice of pitting state against state and worker against worker, and a collective bargaining agreement can help level that playing field for workers.”

Four years ago, shortly before the company opened its $750 million Dreamliner plant, the NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing alleging that the nonunion plant in South Carolina was in retaliation against union workers in Washington state who held a strike in 2008.

The NLRB dropped the complaint later that year, after Boeing agreed that the 737 Max would be built in Washington.

The union has had members in the Charleston area before. It won the right to represent workers at Vought Aircraft Industries in 2007, a plant that Boeing later bought. Less than two years later, plant workers decided they did not want a union.

Gov. Nikki Haley, a strong opponent of unions, had recorded radio ads urging Boeing workers to reject a union.

Less than 4% of the South Carolina workforce is unionized, and the governor said in her State of the State address in January that has helped with economic development.

“We have a reputation internationally for being a state that doesn’t want unions. … Now, that reputation and, even more importantly, a South Carolina company, are under attack,” she said, referring to attempts to unionize the Boeing plant.

Mike Evans, a union organizer, said the decision whether to have a union is not to up Haley but to Boeing workers.

“We expect Governor Haley and her friends, who have no clue what it’s like to be a front-line production employee for Boeing, to keep their personal biases to themselves and remain neutral in the weeks leading up to the union vote,” he said in a statement issued by the union.

© 2015 The Canadian Press

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