A union campaign among Portland-area Precision Castparts (PCC) workers failed to find majority support in ballots counted June 7. The tally was 932 for joining International Association of Machinists (IAM), and 1,258 against, or roughly 43 percent to 57 percent. Twenty ballots were challenged by one side or another and weren’t counted in the tally, but that wouldn’t have affected the outcome.
Turnout was very high, with 2,210 workers casting ballots over a two-day period at five sites in Portland, Milwaukie, and Clackamas, Oregon. That amounted to 95 percent of the 2,323 workers eligible to vote.
The vote came after a month of heavy campaigning. PCC employed consultants and waged a tailor-made campaign that followed the standard employer playbook for fighting unions.
“They hit all the standard misinformation marks,” IAM national spokesperson Frank Larkin told the Labor Press. “Both aboveground and below-ground campaigns stirred the rumor pot with threats of outsourcing to Mexico, or the prospect that if you join a union, you go on strike.”
It’s not unusual for a successful campaign to have two or even three elections before they get to the bargaining table.” — IAM spokesperson Frank Larkin
Precision Castparts also publicized Boeing layoffs of Machinists members in Washington, and contrasted that with Boeing’s expansion of its non-union operations in South Carolina. PCC had purchased land in Idaho, it was said. The suggestion was veiled, but clear enough: Unionize, and the company might just shut down and move elsewhere.
But in the next breath, managers would make elaborate apologies, and plead for another chance.
“We failed to listen enough and we failed to communicate enough with our employees,” said PCC Structurals president Kevin Stein in a personal letter to employees. “We have learned a valuable lesson during the past couple months, and I commit to you that we will work hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
“We have heard you!” said a flier signed by all company managers. “We are sorry we put you in this position!”
Other fliers described fat union staff salaries, low strike benefits, and fines against union members who crossed picket lines during a strike.
The union is only after your dues money, said PCC — a company that cut off its pension for new hires at a time of record-breaking profits. PCC’s stock is at its all-time high on the New York Stock Exchange, and the company reported $1.2 billion profit on $7.2 billion in sales its most recent fiscal year.
It’s that kind of contrast that drove the interest in unionization, Larkin said: “Given the financial success that the company is currently enjoying, what excuse is there, really, for taking away defined benefit pensions or aggressive forced overtime? If this is how they behave when they’re making money, what’s going to happen when they’re not doing so well?”
In spite of allegations of company labor law violations, IAM has no plans to file charges with the National Labor Relations Board.
“However, if there is any evidence of retaliation or harassment or discrimination among organizers or supporters, we would file charges immediately,” Larkin said.
Going forward, IAM plans to maintain contact with PCC workers. By law, workers can try again in a year’s time.
“It was a hard campaign, and a hard one to lose, but I feel we’re closer to where we’re trying to get,” Larkin said. “It’s not unusual for a successful campaign to have two or even three elections before they get to the bargaining table.”