Machinists set up in North Charleston

By Liz Segrist
lsegrist@scbiznews.com
Published March 18, 2014
Updated 3:05 p.m.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers opened an office in North Charleston in an effort to organize the Boeing Co.’s local operations.

An unspecified number of Boeing employees have contacted the union about organizing, spurring the Machinists union to set up local operations. Boeing has around 7,000 local employees.

“Given the number of contacts we have there and the size of the (Boeing) facility, I don’t want to predict when or if an election might occur, but education is very important so they understand that they have rights and they’ll be protected,” Machinists union Communications Director Frank Larkin said.

Click image for PDF of flyer distributed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers regarding the union’s new office in North Charleston.
Click image for PDF of flyer distributed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers about the union’s new office in North Charleston.

Boeing wants to work directly with its employees, Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said in an emailed statement.

“… We're continuously working on keeping 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,” Eslinger said. “We're very proud of what our teammates have accomplished here in South Carolina by collaborating and working together, and we don’t believe a union is in the best interest of our teammates, our business, our community nor our state.”

The Machinists union is in the educational stage of the campaign in which they inform employees about their legal rights and responsibilities, collect authorization cards, send mailings and hold informational meetings on collective bargaining rights, Larkin said.

The Machinists union has contacted employees by mail in the past and plans to continue, although Larkin said face-to-face interactions are most effective. He said many employees are reluctant to speak in public due to the anti-union political atmosphere in the state. Union representatives sometimes meet at employees’ homes.

Gov. Nikki Haley has touted an anti-union stance for years and recently said unionized companies are not welcome in South Carolina.

South Carolina has one of the lowest union rates in the country, tying with Mississippi for No. 3 at 3.7%, behind North Carolina and Arkansas, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

“We’ve fought against the unionization of South Carolina, cherishing the direct relationship between our companies — who know how to take care of those that take care of them — and their employees,” Haley said in her 2013 State of the State Address.

Before Boeing bought the Vought Aircraft Industries plant, the Machinists union had successfully unionized it, but Boeing employees later voted to decertify the union in 2009.

In fall 2012, the union sent mass mailings to and held informational meetings for Boeing South Carolina workers in an effort to organize the plant.

The Machinists union represents Boeing employees in Washington state. In 2009, Boeing employees in the Puget Sound were vying for the second 787 assembly line, but talks fell through when the union and Boeing couldn’t reach an agreement. Boeing opened the second 787 assembly line in North Charleston instead.

The Machinists union filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Boeing opened a plant in South Carolina due to past union strikes in Washington state. The complaint was dismissed in 2011.

In late 2013, Machinists union members in Washington state and Boeing executives fought over labor terms in a contract covering 777X final assembly. After months of fighting, union members finally approved the contract in January, securing the work for Puget Sound.

As for local unionization efforts, an informational meeting will be held at the Machinists union’s new office on Thursday at noon for hourly employees that will be under the bargaining unit at Boeing’s North Charleston operations.

Several union organizers work out of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ office and meeting hall at 7025 Dorchester Road.

The office will be open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Appointments can be made on the weekends. The meeting is closed to media.

“We still maintain contact with employees in the (Boeing) facility interested in organizing,” Larkin said. “We came primarily for the Boeing facility, but we will certainly speak with anyone that has an interest in organizing.”

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Previous coverage:

Boeing 777X to be built in Seattle area after union vote

Unions see opportunity in the Southeast

Boeing, union reach tentative deal

Boeing workers vote to kick out Machinists union

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