Yesterday's unionization vote at Boeing was a clear defeat for the International Association of Machinists (IAM), with Boeing reporting that 74 percent of the 2,828 company workers who voted rejecting the union at the company's North Charleston, SC facility.
Still, a number of questions remain following the vote. Will the IAM be back? If so, how long until they can call for another vote? What are the long-term ramifications of yesterday's vote for the Lowcountry and the state of South Carolina?
In a statement issued after the vote, Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager at Boeing South Carolina, said that "we will continue to move forward as one team."
“We have a bright future ahead of us and we're eager to focus on the accomplishments of this great team and to developing new opportunities," added Robinson-Berry.
The machinists union sounded a different chord, with IAM lead organizer Mike Evans accusing Boeing of reaching "new lows" with "anti-union conduct."
“The IAM remains committed to getting Boeing South Carolina workers the respect, wages and consistency they deserve," said Evans.
If the union is going to continue its efforts to unionize the facility, it will have to wait a year to hold another vote. That's according to National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules.
According to Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, yesterday's vote was a strong repudiation of the union.
"This was a big statement by the workers in Charleston that they aren’t buying what IAM bosses are selling," said Mix. "The rejection of IAM union officials shows Boeing South Carolina workers remember that it was IAM officials who attacked Boeing when they announced the investment in Charleston and then IAM lawyers who asked the Obama NLRB to shut down the Charleston plant and eliminate their jobs."
Mix is referring to a 2011 suit filed by the NLRB against Boeing after the IAM charged the company with engaging in "unfair labor practices." The IAM and NLRB alleged Boeing's decision to locate the facility in South Carolina was made in retaliation against the union.
The NLRB dropped its suit in December 2011 after the union relented. The Wall Street Journal editorial board labeled the entire affair a "sham," asking, "has there ever been a more blatant case of a supposedly independent agency siding with a union over management in collective bargaining?"
"This has always been a top down organizing driven because the IAM bosses in Boeing’s Washington State facilities don’t like that a nonunion facility threatens their monopoly control, as opposed to because there is widespread demand from rank-and-file workers," said Mix.
So, will the union be back? Perhaps, says Mix.
"The IAM may be back because IAM officials still see a nonunion Charleston workplace as a threat to their power, but as long as long as the IAM is in Charleston because of their interests in Washington State, they will have trouble gaining real traction," he said. "One of the reasons IAM organizers rushed to have this vote now, was that this way they were able to conduct the vote under the Obama NLRB’s ambush rules, which include handing personal contact information for workers over to union organizers, and they are worried a Trump Labor Board may undo these rules if they waited."
Coincidentally — or perhaps not — President Trump is scheduled to visit Boeing's South Carolina facility tomorrow as the company unveils its new, 787-10 Dreamliner aircraft.
"This visit will give the President an opportunity to celebrate a huge milestone for thousands of workers at Boeing, America’s number-one exporter and the millions of American workers involved in aerospace," announced White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in his February 14th press briefing. "This trip has been months in the making, and we’re thrilled to celebrate the rollout of this amazing plane."
The president's visit will certainly make this a milestone week for Boeing.