GUEST VIEW: Machinists’ Union seeks election at North Charleston Boeing plant

The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM) reportedly has filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) seeking a representation election at Boeing’s North Charleston, South Carolina, production facility.

According to the IAM, it seeks to represent a bargaining unit of over 2,400 employees out of the roughly 7,500 at the plant. The IAM’s press release further stated that a “significant number” of employees have signed authorization cards needed to call for an NLRB election. Given that signatures from 30% of employees are required to do so, that would mean at least 800 have signed the cards.

The NLRB will need to approve the proposed bargaining unit and verify that the union has gathered enough signatures. Assuming that happens, the Board will next schedule and conduct an election at the plant.

Whether or not the IAM will succeed, of course, is an open question. One broad factor to consider is that South Carolina does not have a strong affinity for union representation at all. In fact, it currently has the second-lowest union membership rate in the country, with just 2.2 percent of workers belonging to unions.

More importantly, though, the IAM has a rocky history at this particular plant. As readers may recall, in 2011 the union tried unsuccessfully to get the NLRB to force Boeing to move the facility to Seattle, which would have jeopardized the jobs of many, if not all, of the workers in Charleston.

Before that debacle, however, the IAM actually used to represent the employees at the same location before Boeing bought it. Two Boeing subcontractors, Vought Aircraft Industries and Global Aeronautica, operated plants at the same location and employed several hundred workers. Those employees had voted for IAM representation around 2007, but in September 2009, they voted 199 to 68 to leave the union, which does not exactly provide what one might call a ringing endorsement.

Following the decertification of the IAM, Boeing took over and expanded its production of the 787 Dreamliner in Charleston. That move created thousands of well-paying jobs for the local economy, which prompted the IAM’s aforementioned ploy to take them away. Given that history, it will be interesting to see how workers respond to the IAM’s latest entreaty.

Sean P. Redmond is the director of research and legislative affairs for the U.S. Chamber Workforce Freedom Initiative.

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