About 75 to 100 Boeing employees attended a meeting hosted by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers last week, and the union expects to host more meetings for Boeing South Carolina workers.
By Matt Tomsic
Published Oct. 22, 2012
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers plans to host more informational meetings for Boeing South Carolina workers.
Between 75 and 100 employees attended last Tuesday’s meeting, said Frank Larkin, a spokesman at the headquarters of the Machinists union, and their questions were general, focusing on legal rights, elections, contracts and employee’s at-will work status. Boeing employs about 6,100 at its North Charleston campus.
“The IAM has maintained contact with supporters at the Boeing South Carolina facility, and they’ve maintained contact with us,” Larkin said a few days before the meeting. “The meeting is for Boeing employees who are interested in finding out more about their collective bargaining rights.”
A Boeing spokeswoman said any organizing comes down to economics, and the Machinists union has to collect dues from North Charleston workers to be viable.
“This is the same union who wanted to move our South Carolina work to Washington when they filed the (National Labor Relations Board charge),” said spokeswoman Candy Eslinger, referring to the charge that led to an NLRB complaint. It 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.
“And it’s the same union that made the disparaging comments about the quality of South Carolina workers during that same time,” she said.
Eslinger said Boeing wants its employees to gather all the facts before making any decision, and the company wants its employees to have the freedom to choose whether they want to join a union.
“We’ve been a target for the IAM since the former Vought teammates decertified that union in 2009,” Eslinger said. “We certainly hope that we don’t have a good majority of our teammates who are supporting the union; but right now, we’re just not going to speculate on that.”
Jeffrey Keefe, an associate professor at Rutgers University’s School of Management and Labor Relations, said he’s unsure how the meetings and any potential organizing drive will play out.
“It will depend on Boeing’s response,” Keefe said. “And I suspect that Boeing is not going to want workers to join the union, but maybe it will be a more civilized response. Boeing is a highly unionized company throughout the United States.”
The state’s right-to-work laws could make the Machinists union’s operations more difficult if it organizes the workforce. The law doesn’t make union membership compulsory, meaning the union can’t collect dues from a company’s entire workforce but still represents everyone.
“It shouldn’t make it more difficult to organize, except the business community in South Carolina is pretty hostile to unions,” Keefe said. “Even if Boeing wants to have a relationship, I think the business community as a whole will be hostile to having another unionized employer in South Carolina.”
Keefe also said the Machinists union will have a tougher sell in North Charleston.
“I think the real question for this whole process is what does Boeing want out of its labor relations and what does it want out of South Carolina,” he said. “And that’s always unclear with Boeing. Boeing historically has had some pretty aggressive labor relations even in Seattle, Wash. I think they’ve always been conflictual.”
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