In a major step forward in an ongoing unionization drive, a group of flight line mechanics at the Boeing factory in Charleston, South Carolina have voted to join IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
A bargaining unit of flight line mechanics, who ensure that the Dreamliner 787s built at the factory are flight ready, has voted to join the Machinists Union. The 176 workers represent a portion of the 7,000 who work at the South Carolina site, and the victory opens a significant beachhead in a longstanding battle to unionize the site.
National Labor Relations Board rules mean that groups within a workforce – “micro units” – can negotiate union contracts if their working conditions meet certain criteria. The union hopes to set a precedent with the micro unit, encouraging other parts of the workforce to unionize.
The IAM represents 35,000 Boeing workers at 24 locations in the US, but the company had until now successfully fought off unionization efforts in South Carolina. The US South is notoriously anti-union, and South Carolina has the lowest private sector union density in the US. Previous attempts to unionize the factory failed, including an attempt in 2015, when the anti-union campaign was led by state governor Nikki Hailey, currently the US ambassador to the UN.
Boeing fought the current organizing drive as well, hiring union busters and forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings. The company filed last minute legal challenges to the vote and attempted to have the ballot boxes impounded. When the result was announced, the company expressed disappointment and pledged to try to have the vote declared illegal.
The IAM’s Mike Evans, who lead the organizing drive at the site, said:
“This election was never just about wages. The men and women wanted dignity and consistency in the workplace. And this vote put them closer to achieving those goals. We hope Boeing does the right thing by agreeing to sit down and negotiate in good faith with the dedicated Flight Readiness Technicians.”
IndustriALL aerospace director Georg Leutert said:
“In the South, employers, government and Members of Congress work together to create a very hostile environment for unions. Boeing tried everything to stop these workers from unionizing, and yet they chose to stand up for dignity and respect at work. This is a major achievement, and we hope more will follow. We congratulate the IAM.
“It is time for Boeing to be mature and establish a productive relationship with the union.”
The IAM represents 600,000 members at companies that include Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, General Electric, United Airlines and Harley-Davidson.