The International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers union (IAM) has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to authorize an election for production workers at Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ North Charleston, S.C., plant – supporting their request with authorization cards signed by “a significant number” of the estimated 2,400 workers there. The actual number of authorization cards was not announced.
Boeing has over 7,700 employees in total at Boeing South Carolina, the operation it began to develop in 2008 as a second site for its 787 Dreamliner production. The jet builder issued a terse statement in reply to the union’s announcement: “Boeing firmly believes that a union is not in the best interest of Boeing South Carolina teammates and their families, … especially after years of the IAM insulting the abilities of Boeing South Carolina teammates and fighting against BSC's success.”
The union stated Boeing workers have a number of complaints about the South Carolina workplace, including forced overtime, unfair wages, and “a lack of respect on the shop floor.” IAM pledged to help educate Boeing workers to understand labor issues while the NLRB evaluates the petition and identifies election dates and locations.
An organizing election is likely to be contentious, inasmuch as Boeing chose the BSC site in part because that state has "right to work” laws, in order to avoid the possibility of workers unionizing and potentially disrupting 787 production by strike actions.
The NLRB is seen as sympathetic to union workers, and workers seeking unionization, having recently relaxed its regulations governing organizing elections: effective of April 14, NLRB will cut the time between the filing of an election petition and the election to 14-21 days, from the current median of 38 days; give unions more access to workers; and postpone objections to the election process until after the election is completed.
"We’re trying to build a better life for ourselves, our families and our community,” according to BSC employee Gerald Guerena, in a statement supplied by the union. “We feel the best way to do this is with a collective bargaining agreement that allows us to negotiate with the company over wages, benefits, safety procedures and more.”
In addition, the NLRB is believed to oppose Boeing’s labor policies, and particularly its South Carolina operation: in 2011 the agency charged Boeing with illegally punishing IAM union workers at its plant in Everett, Wash., by moving some assembly operations to South Carolina.
"Boeing South Carolina teammates have done what so many people said couldn't be done,” observed Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager there. “And they did it by working together, engaging every day, and truly committing themselves to the success of our site," she said.
"And let's be really clear, the IAM was not part of this success – it was our BSC teammates. In fact, the IAM aggressively opposed it, as publicly demonstrated by their filing of a claim with the National Labor Relations Board, to try to keep our site from even opening. Now, simply by filing this petition, the same union that tried to take our jobs and our work, has already begun to divide our team at a time when we're just beginning to gel and catch a solid rhythm in production," Wyse concluded.