While most Lowcountry voters will have to wait until later this year to cast their vote in local Elections, a sizable group will head to the polls this Wednesday.
That’s the date that has been set for an election for many Boeing employees to vote on whether or not to join the International Association of Machinists (IAM) labor union.
“Nearly 3,000 workers at the Boeing South Carolina 787 assembly facilities will soon get their chance to have a voice in the workplace,” notes the IAM in a recent blog post on its Web site. “An NLRB supervised election will take place February 15.”
For the past several years, both Boeing and the IAM have blitzed the local airwaves with ads touting the pros and cons of membership in the union, but it’s been a somewhat rocky road for the IAM.
In April 2015, the IAM cancelled a vote on union membership at Boeing’s plant in North Charleston, SC, citing a “toxic environment” for workers ahead of the planned vote. Some, however, assert that the union cancelled the vote simply because it lacked the votes necessary to win.
In a statement after that vote was cancelled, Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager, Boeing South Carolina, highlighted the fact that “ IAM has repeatedly stated that it would withdraw the petition if it lacked the support of Boeing South Carolina’s teammates.”
The same month that vote was cancelled, the IAM garnered headlines by postponing a unionization vote by Delta Airlines’ flight attendants, saying that the union had discovered that some worker authorization cards had been submitted with "insufficient information or questionable signatures."
It is amid that backdrop that the February 15 union election is to take place.
While the union has been sharpening its message, Boeing has been expanding its physical and community impact in the Lowcountry.
According to Boeing, the company has invested more than $2 billion in land, facilities, infrastructure and tools in South Carolina since 2009, and spends approximately $355 million annually with more than 290 South Carolina suppliers and vendors.
An economic impact study released last August by the South Carolina Council on Competitiveness highlighted Boeing’s impact on a burgeoning local aerospace industry. According to that study, the impact of aerospace on South Carolina's economy has grown to $19 billion, an increase of $2 billion since last measured in 2014.
That study also found that for every ten jobs created in the “private sector component of the aerospace cluster in South Carolina”, another 13 jobs are created elsewhere in the state’s economy.
Boeing’s impact also has been felt through its partnership with a number of community organizations. The company says that, since 2010, it has invested more than $32 million in non-profit organizations across South Carolina, including the Urban League, Teach for America, Project Lead the Way and the Boeing Observatory at the South Carolina State Museum.
In 2012, Boeing made a $100,000 grant to the University of South Carolina’s College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) to expand the college’s “Project Lead the Way” program into College Park Middle School, West Ashley Middle School, Alston Middle School and St. George Middle School.
This program features a STEM education curriculum, in which teachers attend summer workshops and students can earn college credit for engineering courses taken in high school.
“We want to increase the number of Project Lead the Way programs in middle schools in hopes we reach students at a younger age,” said Donn Griffith, the program’s affiliate director. “The Boeing Company’s generous grant will allow us to reach more students.”
“This gift shows Boeing’s strong commitment to our state and communities,” said Tony Ambler, dean of the College of Engineering and Computing.
Mark M. Smith, town councilman in Mt. Pleasant, cited Boeing’s positive community impact in urging a “No” vote in Wednesday’s election.
“I hope Boeing SC employees just say ‘No’ during the IAM Union vote,” said Smith. “We simply don't need unions to speak for employees here in SC. These employees’ voices are able to be heard loud and clear on their own."
Smith also cited South Carolina’s position as a “Right to Work” state as a reason employers choose to locate here.
“We are a 'Right to Work' state and that, along with our high quality of life and economic prosperity opportunities, are just a few of the many reasons why more and more jobs are coming to our great state,” he said. “Let's keep it that way and continue to build on our past successes, learn from our mistakes, and know that our best days are still ahead of us."
South Carolina, in fact, is one of 27 states which have so-called “Right to Work” laws. According to the National Right to Work Legal Foundation, such a law “secures the right of employees to decide for themselves whether or not to join or financially support a union.”
The opening paragraph of South Carolina’s law, enacted in 1954, reads that “It is hereby declared the public policy of this State that the right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or nonmembership in any labor union or labor organization.”
As the February 15 election approaches, the union has accused Boeing of running “a barrage of anti-union television, radio and social media ads.”
Boeing, in turn, has accused the union of creating “divisiveness in the workplace and the community.”
No matter the outcome, the results of the election are likely to be felt well beyond the boundaries of the company’s North Charleston plant, and impact the entire Lowcountry for years to come.
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