Crews work on a Dreamliner on the floor of the 787 final assembly plant in North Charleston. (Photo/Leslie Burden)
By Matt Tomsic
Published Oct. 10, 2012
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is hosting a meeting for Boeing South Carolina employees in North Charleston next week, according to documents obtained by the Charleston Regional Business Journal.
“The IAM has maintained contact with supporters at the Boeing South Carolina facility, and they’ve maintained contact with us,” said Frank Larkin, a spokesman for the Machinists union headquarters. “The meeting is for Boeing employees who are interested in finding out more about their collective bargaining rights.”
It will take place Tuesday and is intended for hourly employees who fall under the bargaining unit at Boeing’s North Charleston campus.
The Machinists union mailed information about the meeting to Boeing Co. employees, including a pamphlet with information about labor rights and a card employees could fill out and submit to allow the Machinists union to act as that employee’s collective bargaining agent.
“Contrary to what anti-union politicians say, there’s plenty of workers in South Carolina who like the kind of health care and retirement benefits that only come with a union contract,” Larkin said.
A Boeing spokeswoman said the company is proud of its North Charleston team’s accomplishments and collaboration.
“We’re continuously working on making Boeing South Carolina a place where teammates have a voice and can speak for themselves without having to rely on a third party to speak for them,” said Candy Eslinger in an emailed statement.
Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor for Clark University, said the meeting is standard procedure for union organizing.
“The Machinists are just examining the potential of organizing the Boeing plant of South Carolina,” Chaison said. “The workers have to make a decision about whether or not they want to be represented by the union, knowing full well in the back of their mind that Boeing moved to South Carolina so they wouldn’t have to deal with a unionized workforce.”
The Machinists union is deciding if it’s worthwhile to start and pay for an organizing drive at the Boeing plant even though South Carolina’s right-to-work law means the union won’t have automatic dues deductions from employees, he said. In South Carolina, employees aren’t forced to join a union that represents other workers, but the employees who don’t join are still covered by collective bargaining agreements.
Chaison said either decision will carry big implications.
“Nothing that happens with Boeing is small,” he said. “It takes on tremendous symbolic and political importance. And so if there is a campaign, it’s going to be looked at as tremendously important. If there isn’t a campaign, it’s going to be looked at as tremendously important also.”
Next week’s meeting isn’t the union’s first venture into the Lowcountry.
In 2007, workers at the former Vought Aircraft Industries plant voted 67-60 to join the Machinists union. But two years later, employees voted 199-68 to decertify the Machinists union; after the vote, a Boeing spokeswoman said the presence of a union or the decertification vote would not impact the company’s decision on the location of the second final assembly line. At the time, Boeing was considering North Charleston and a handful of other sites as locations for a second final assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner.
A month later, Boeing chose North Charleston for its second final assembly plant.
Boeing’s decision eventually led to a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board, which argued the new assembly line constituted an unfair labor practice and Boeing’s decision to expand in South Carolina was retaliation against the union in Washington state for past strikes. In the complaint, the labor relations board cited statements made by Boeing executives as retaliation against the Machinists union.
The complaint ignited a firestorm of outrage, and government officials at all levels condemned the NLRB.
The NLRB ended its case against Boeing after the company and the Machinists in Washington state asked for the complaint to be dropped after they reached a new labor agreement in December.
Reach Matt Tomsic at 843-849-3144.