Workers again try to organize South Carolina Boeing plant
A worker looks over the inside of a fuselage of a Boeing 787. | John Froschauer/AP

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — The Machinists aren’t giving up: For a second time in three years, they’re trying to organize the 2,850 workers at Boeing’s non-union 787 Dreamliner manufacturing plant in North Charleston, S.C.

What will happen is anyone’s guess: Right wing GOP Gov. Nikki Haley, who vowed never to let the Machinists win and to make South Carolina union-free, is Republican President Donald Trump’s nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

But her state labor commissioner, a former union-buster, is still in place in the state capital in Columbia, and IAM had to halt its last drive after several organizers received death threats. South Carolina is the least-unionized state in the U.S.

In filing their recognition election petition on Jan. 23, Machinists lead organizer Mike Evans said “Boeing workers just want to be treated with the respect they deserve. Why should they be subject to a different set of standards and rules than folks building the exact same plane in Seattle?” The petition went to the National Labor Relations Board’s Atlanta office.

Evans blamed postponement of the prior vote, which the NLRB had scheduled for April 22, 2015, on “unprecedented political interference” by Carolina lawmakers and “rampant misinformation among the workers.

“It was impossible to hold a free and fair election in an environment so rife with mistruths and outright lies. Unfortunately, we’ve now heard numerous reports of the company walking people off the job for seeking a voice,” he said.

“Despite the obstacles, we feel this group is ready to take a stand. The only way to secure the workplace improvements they deserve is through a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement. I can unequivocally say there will be a vote this time around.”

Because the NLRB changed its rules in 2015, union elections can now happen much more quickly after the workers file their petition. Instead of having to wait an average of 5½ weeks after filing, workers can now vote after a little more than three weeks. No date for an election at Boeing had yet been set as of this writing.

Evans’ comparison of Boeing in North Charleston and Seattle harkens back to firm’s prior fight against the union several years ago. That’s when Boeing’s former CEO announced it would move most Dreamliner production to North Charleston specifically to get away from IAM’s strong defense of its aerospace workers in the Pacific Northwest.

The CEO’s decision eventually forced the NLRB to file labor law-breaking –called unfair labor practices – charges against Boeing for illegal retaliation against the union. As a result, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., tried to shut the NLRB down by blocking confirmation of board members, and the U.S. Senate changed its rules to stop such blockades.

The website for the workplace campaign shows Boeing may be breaking labor law again.

“Once again management has chosen to ignore your rights when it comes to organizing under the National Labor Relations Act,” it reports. “Recently at a morning meeting, a supervisor instructed workers to vote ‘No.’ This act is a violation of the law. Management has no right to instruct you on how to vote.

“Supervision continued their assault on worker rights by holding up a picture of an empty Building 30 while implying if you organize this is what Building 30 will look like – another violation of the law.

“Unfortunately, management from the top down feels you should not have any rights and they have no plans or concerns to honor your rights.”

Pay differences may also be an issue. A chart on the union website shows a 6.5 percent difference—in favor of the unionized Boeing workers in the Seattle-Everett plant – and a 36 percent pay difference for hourly workers, again in favor of Seattle-Everett workers.


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.