Machinists win toehold at Boeing South Carolina plant

A group of 176 flight-line readiness technicians and inspectors at Boeing’s factory in North Charleston, S.C., voted 104 to 65 May 31 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). It’s the first group of workers to unionize at Boeing’s South Carolina factory since the IAM was voted out there in 2009. Back then, the plant employed 300. Today it employs about 6,700 workers assembling Boeing 787 Dreamliners. In 2011, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) determined that Boeing located 787 assembly in non-union South Carolina in part to punish its unionized Puget Sound workforce for striking.

South Carolina is the least-unionized state in the nation, with just 2.6 percent of workers there in a union.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wants to keep it that way.

“Out-of-state union bosses have no interest in the future of South Carolina or this remarkable company,” McMaster tweeted 10 days before the Boeing union vote. “We aren’t going to let out-of-state labor unions ruin the wonderful working environment in our state.”

Boeing brought in anti-union consultants to talk to the workers in mandatory meetings. It didn’t work. Flight-line technicians at the South Carolina plant earn about 30 percent less than their union counterparts in Washington state.

The result isn’t a vote against Boeing, said Machinists International President Bob Martinez in a press statement: “It was a vote for the return of American prosperity. Unions are the best mechanism for protecting the interest of working men and women.”

The IAM represents more than 35,000 Boeing employees at 24 locations nationwide.

Boeing said it will appeal the vote result, saying the workers aren’t distinct enough to be allowed to have their own union, but should be part of a larger plant-wide group. That larger group rejected Machinist representation by 2,097 to 731 in a Feb. 15, 2017 union vote.

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