Boeing did an impressive job in the lead up to its machinists voting overwhelmingly against the formation of a union in South Carolina, according to one labor lawyer.
The vote rejecting the union was not a surprise, given South Carolina’s historic low union rate and that only a minority of workers signed on to file the petition to allow the ballot to move ahead, said Michael Carrouth, an attorney with Columbia, SC-based labor and employment law firm, Fisher Phillips. He said it was also not a surprise because of Boeing’s impact on the state, which he believes is very positive.
“It was really expecting a huge disparity in the margin,” Carrouth told Palmetto Business Daily. “It was a win, and it was a big win. There is a general perception that the company is highly involved in the state.”
The National Labor Relations Board, which oversaw the secret ballot, announced Thursday that 74 percent of 2,828 workers voted against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
The vote came ahead of a visit Friday by President Donald Trump to the Boeing plant in North Charleston.
"We will continue to move forward as one team," Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president in charge of Boeing South Carolina, said in a statement.
IAM lead organizer Mike Evans said in a statement, "We're disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation."
Carrouth noted that South Carolina has the lowest union membership rate in the country. Just over 2 percent of the workforce in unionized, and state law prohibits mandatory union membership.
“This is not a state where people have grown up in unionized operations,” Carrouth said. “Now that you see the result, why did they file the petition?”
Only about 30 percent signed up to file the petition to unionize. Unions normally require about 65 percent so they are pretty sure they have a good opportunity of winning, said Carrouth. The chances of increasing union interest after the process starts is low, he said.
“I think it is pretty clear they really thought they had no choice," he said. "They are looking at Airbus in Mobile, Alabama, and they can see where the airline manufacturing industry is going.”
Carrouth, as a South Carolinian, also believes workers were put off by the attitude of the union when Boeing announced it was locating a plant in the state. The union fought hard to keep the operation, and most of the manufacturing of 787 Dreamliner, in Washington state. Union members also made some disparaging comments about the quality of workers in South Carolina and their ability to make airplanes, Carrouth said.
“I was impressed by how the whole whole process was conducted by Boeing, how it was handled,” the attorney said. “(They) did an impressive job in the media, but also internally.”