With the official announcement Friday morning by the Machinists union that it has filed a petition for a vote to organize production workers at Boeing South Carolina, the union and management immediately entered into a bitter war of words.
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is now expected to call for a vote in mid- to late-February to decide if the International Association of Machinists (IAM) will represent the approximately 2,850 production employees in North Charleston.
Mike Evans, the IAM’s lead organizer at Boeing South Carolina, said Friday that wages are 36 percent lower there than in the Puget Sound region factories represented by the union.
“Boeing workers just want to be treated with the respect they deserve,” said Evans. “Why should they be subject to a different set of standards and rules than folks building the exact same plane in Seattle?”
He said the union was forced to postpone a previous vote in April 2015 “due to unprecedented political interference on the part of South Carolina lawmakers and the rampant spread of misinformation among Boeing workers.”
He said the company had hired outside anti-union lawyers to wage a campaign of “mistruths and outright lies” as well as intimidation of workers.
The union canceled the previous vote when it was clear it wouldn’t have a majority.
But this time, Evans said, “we feel this group is ready to take a stand.”
“I can unequivocally say there will be a vote this time around,” he said. “We’ve met with numerous workers at Boeing in recent months and are confident.”
Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager at Boeing South Carolina, issued a response criticizing the union’s record in North Charleston.
She recalled the poor contract the union signed in 2007 with Boeing supplier Vought, before Boeing took over the plant, which led to the workers voting to decertify the union two years later.
She cited remarks by IAM representatives in Washington state during the 2009 campaign to win a second 787 Dreamliner assembly line that contrasted the experienced workforce in Everett with the lack of experience in North Charleston. She characterized those remarks as “repeated insults regarding our teammates’ abilities.”
And she recalled how, after Boeing did locate the second 787 assembly line in North Charleston, the IAM claimed it was in retaliation for its Puget Sound workers going on strike the previous year and petitioned the NLRB to block the new assembly line.
“While we’ve continued to grow and improve here at Boeing South Carolina, nothing has changed with the IAM,” said Robinson-Berry. “Our teammates have good memories. They’ve not forgotten the IAM’s poor history here.”
In a news conference outside the plant, Robinson-Berry responded to the IAM’s reference to the higher wages of Boeing workers in the Puget Sound region by saying that the company pays its South Carolina workforce “at or above market today in this region.”
Asked about Boeing’s hiring of an outside anti-union law firm to help in its campaign for a “no” vote, she said the company will use “every resource available to us” to ensure “a union-free environment” in South Carolina.
Boeing and the IAM have set up competing websites and Facebook pages to reach out to the workforce.
At the company website, a video shows someone speaking as if he’s a Boeing South Carolina worker, complaining that the “the IAM is back,” and that this is “the same union that insulted us and our abilities for years … the same union that left a trail of broken promises.”
However, the person in the video is not an employee, but “a paid spokesman,” Boeing confirmed.
(Dominic Gates - The Seattle Times)