[image-4] In what is largely considered a win for organized labor in the South, 176 flight readiness technicians at Boeing’s North Charleston campus will now enjoy the benefits of union representation after a vote Thursday afternoon.
The employees will be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), a trade union that is part of the AFL-CIO, a federation that represents over 12.5 million workers across 55 unions.
Workers voted to unionize 104-65, according to IAM spokesperson DeLane Adams.
The flight line workers are a small subset of Boeing’s 6,749 workers in the Palmetto State.
In February 2017, 74 percent of 3,000 North Charleston Boeing employees voted against IAM representation. After that, IAM decided to narrow its focus.
Boeing mounted an aggressive “vote no” campaign in the days leading up to the vote. It put together a voter guide urging its employees to vote against the effort and published a video on Facebook asking its workers to “look at what we have built together as one team.”
Union memberships allow workers to negotiate contracts and improve conditions, wages, and benefits.
“This election was never just about wages,” said Boeing lead organizer Mike Evans in a statement released Thursday. “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.”
Boeing, however, argues that IAM’s strategy of representing only a portion of its workers is illegal.
“Boeing continues to believe that this type of micro-unit is prohibited by federal law,” the company said in a statement released Thursday. “While we are deeply disappointed with the result and are appealing, we will come together as we continue to deliver on our customer commitments.”
Right-to-work laws are currently in place in 28 states across the country, along with the territory of Guam. The laws prevent both employers and unions from establishing agreements requiring workers to pay union costs, or requiring companies to hire only union members. Those practices are already limited by federal laws such as the Taft-Harley Act.
South Carolina has the lowest percentage of employees who are represented by unions in the entire country, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Only 3.9 percent of workers are represented by unions, but only 2.6 percent of workers have direct membership to a union or employee association.
Boeing’s flight line workers are the latest addition to the small, but growing, figure.
Overall, union membership has taken a hit in recent decades.
“The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2017, edged up by 262,000 from 2016,” according to a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report on the state of labor unions. “In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.”
Charleston businessman and Democratic candidate for governor Phil Noble released a statement supporting the flight-line workers Friday afternoon.
“Yesterday’s vote is a sign that South Carolina’s policy of luring employers to the state with multi-million dollar bribes and promises of cheap workers is short-sighted and needs to end,” he said. “Today, working people like those at Boeing are bringing great wealth to our state. It makes no sense to condemn them solely because they want to speak with a unified voice to corporate management.”