Machinists sound out Boeing workers in S.C.

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (PAI) – In what would be a fascinating irony, and comeback if it succeeds, the Machinists are quietly sounding out the prospects of launching an organizing drive at the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft construction plant in anti-union South Carolina.

News reports from Everett, Wash., and North Charleston, S.C., said the union sent an informational packet to South Carolina workers and tentatively scheduled a meeting for Oct. 23. IAM spokesman Frank Larkin confirmed the union’s interest.

“The IAM has maintained contact with supporters at the Boeing South Carolina facility, and they’ve maintained contact with us,” he said. “The meeting is for employees who are interested in finding out more about their collective bargaining rights.”

Boeing, rabid right wing Republican Gov. Nikki Haley and her Labor Commissioner – recruited from a union-buster – all strenuously oppose any IAM organizing drive in North Charleston. In a Republican National Convention speech, Haley, a tea party favorite, bragged how she beat “bullying union bosses.”

In 2009, Boeing announced it was moving Dreamliner production from Everett to North Charleston specifically, its CEO said, to retaliate against IAM because the union stood up for workers’ rights – even striking-at the manufacturer’s Everett plant. The announcement came a month after North Charleston workers decertified IAM.

Boeing’s announcement and its CEO’s justification set off a long political brouhaha after IAM lodged a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), saying such retaliation is illegal.

NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon tried to mediate the dispute. But when Boeing didn’t budge, he brought labor law-breaking (unfair labor practices) charges against the firm and sought a penalty to keep Dreamliner work in Everett.

Right wing Republicans in Congress then tried, unsuccessfully, to curb the NLRB’s already limited power to protect workers from retaliation. Some alleged Solomon was in cahoots with IAM to charge Boeing, but they could never prove it.

And Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, campaigning for the South Carolina primary, jumped into the fray, promising to emasculate the NLRB. He also gained Haley’s endorsement.

The mess was solved when Boeing and IAM signed a new contract in Everett, keeping Dreamliner lines open at both plants and directing other construction to Everett.

Photo: Boeing workers labor on 787s at the company’s final assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. Bruce Smith/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.