Machinists Challenge Gov Opposition, Move Closer to Unionizing Boeing’s South Carolina Plant

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Boeing’s largest union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board Monday  to unionize 2,400 workers at the company’s airplane factory in South Carolina, setting the stage for a clash between the two sides in the strongly anti-union state. South Carolina’s government is strongly anti-union, so expect serious opposition from S.C. Governor Nikki Haley, and from Boeing itself to allow the Boeing workers to .

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), which represents 35,000 workers at other Boeing locations in the United States, has been organizing for more than two years in North Charleston, South Carolina, one of two sites where Boeing makes its high-tech 787 jetliners.

Monday’s filing is the culmination a year of organizing by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, which represents assembly line mechanics in the Puget Sound area, under District Lodge 751.

A win by the union would radically change Boeing’s balance of power between its commercial aircraft base in the Puget Sound area, which is unionized, and its South Carolina plant, which is not.

It could slow the attrition of workers to South Carolina, and might make Boeing think twice about moving any future aircraft model, such as a successor to the 737, into production there.

“South Carolina could find that the factors that turned labor relations here in Puget Sound toxic also could begin to affect Charleston, and Boeing will look for another site,” said Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia, in a February interview.

The union already has cited stiff opposition from the company and the governor, and is anticipating more.

“Boeing workers have a legal right to an election process that is free of intimidation and harassment,” said IAM lead organizer Mike Evans. “This is their decision and their decision alone. We expect Gov. Haley and her friends, who have no clue what it’s like to be a front-line production employee for Boeing, to keep their personal biases to themselves and remain neutral in the weeks leading up to the union vote.”

The IAM opened an office in North Charleston last March, and have been conducting a house-by-house campaign since to win support from Boeing workers and gather “authorization cards,” asking for an election.

Boeing employs 7,744 people at the site. South Carolina is a right-to-work state, which means that workers wouldn’t have to join the union, even if it won the vote.

“We’re trying to build a better life for ourselves, our families and our community,” said four-year Boeing employee Gerald Guerena, in a statement from the Machinists. “We feel the best way to do this is with a collective bargaining agreement that allows us to negotiate with the company over wages, benefits, safety procedures and more.”

But in its own statement, Boeing tried to paint the union as outsiders, more concerned with building an organization than helping workers.

“We think our teammates deserve to pave their own future and keep their hard-earned money in their own pockets, rather than be locked into a contract and pay union dues to an organization that hasn’t contributed one bit to job growth in South Carolina and has repeatedly insulted our teammates, their experience and capabilities,” said Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger in an email.

Election times and places are expected to be issued in “coming weeks,” according to a release from the union. The union would need an easy majority of those voting to win.