By Jennifer Girard
Boeing’s recently opened plant in North Charleston, South Carolina is being targeted by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to unionize its workers. But IAM faces an uphill battle. The South Carolina plant, Boeing’s second U.S. final assembly line, opened in July 2011 amidst controversy. In March 2010, the NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing, alleging that Boeing was illegally retaliating against the union by choosing a non-union friendly state in which to open its assembly line. The NLRB later dropped the complaint when Boeing agreed to assemble its next 737 at the Washington plant.
However, controversy soon arose again. In January 2011, IAM filed suit against South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for her disparaging anti-union remarks. The case was dismissed in August 2011. South Carolina is a strongly anti-union state, and its right-to-work laws forbid employers from mandating union membership as a condition of employment. Union must represent all workers without requiring every worker to pay dues. Boeing says that its South Carolina workers do not need a union, and that management wants to create an environment where “teammates have a voice and can speak for themselves without relying on a third party.”
IAM is not giving up its fight to unionize South Carolina so easily, however. Boeing plant employees number 6,100, 2,000 of whom are eligible to join IAM. On October 16, 2012, IAM held its first interest meeting, attended by 75 to 100 Boeing employees, which is a good start is such a strongly anti-union state. The employees are aware that unionized Washington workers are paid more, but IAM will still likely face much opposition, not only from Boeing, but from workers as well, who are
IAM is hesitant, however, to put the union up for a vote until it is fairly sure that workers will vote yes. A vote not to unionize would be a huge setback for IAM. An NLRB decision issued on October 29, 2012, however, found that Boeing violated South Carolina labor laws by forbidding an employee to discuss unions during work time. The NLRB judge ruled that Boeing did not forbid discussing other unrelated topics during work time, as long as production was not affected, and therefore could not forbid union discussions. Boeing denies that it ever prohibited union discussions on the job.
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