Machinists file for union recognition at Boeing plant

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (PAI) – The Machinists have gathered enough union recognition election petition cards to file a formal petition to the National Labor Relations Board for a vote at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston, S.C.

Their Mar. 17 move is the latest chapter in a long-running saga which previously embroiled the aerospace manufacturer, its workers in the Pacific Northwest, the U.S. Senate, and the National Labor Relations Board.

The plant has 2,400 workers and “a significant number” of signed cards, IAM said. NLRB rules require at least 30 percent of a worksite’s employees sign the cards before petitioning for a vote. In practice, many unions try for signatures of at least half of the workers.

The North Charleston workers “had reached out to the IAM regarding numerous workplace concerns, including forced overtime, fair wages and a lack of respect on the shop floor,” IAM said.

“We’re trying to build a better life for ourselves, our families and our community,” four-year Boeing worker Gerald Guerena told the Machinists. “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.”

Management, backed by right-wing Gov. Nikki Haley, R-S.C., is already campaigning against the Machinists. She attacked the workers in her State of the State address.

“Every time you hear a Seattle union boss carry on about how he has the best interests of Boeing workers in Charleston at heart, remember that if it were up to that same union boss, there would be no Boeing workers in Charleston,” Haley charged.

Haley’s slam against the Machinists referred to the long struggle over manufacturing the Dreamliner in North Charleston. Boeing’s CEO had openly said work on the plane, Boeing’s newest, would be taken away from the Pacific Northwest plants, in Seattle and Everett, Wash., with suppliers in Portland, Ore., and transferred to South Carolina in retaliation for the union’s representation of its Pacific Northwest members.

That promise/threat led the National Labor Relations Board to investigate whether Boeing broke labor law. Its then-acting General Counsel and top enforcement officer, Lafe Solomon, tried to settle the dispute through mediation. But when Boeing refused, he had to file labor law-breaking-formally called unfair labor practices-charges.

Solomon’s filing angered GOP senators, led by Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who then hamstrung the NLRB by filibustering against Obama administration nominees for board seats, thus scheming to bring the agency to a dead halt.

And their filibuster in turn eventually led to the U.S. Supreme Court case where the five-man GOP court majority threw out all the NLRB rulings involving President Obama’s three “recess appointees” to the board. Obama had to name those recess appointees because the 5-person board – thanks to the filibuster – lacked enough members to function.

Back in North Charleston this year, “Boeing workers have a legal right to an election process that is free of intimidation and harassment,” said IAM lead organizer Mike Evans. “This is their decision and their decision alone. We expect Governor Haley and her friends, who have no clue what it’s like to be a front-line production employee for Boeing, to keep their personal biases to themselves and remain neutral in the weeks leading up to the union vote.”

The union’s website for the North Charleston Boeing organizing drive is explaining the advantages of unionizing, outlining the Machinists’ structure-and warning the Boeing workers of anti-union management tactics to expect. Its “Management Playbook” section gives “examples of tactics companies exercise to confuse, mislead, or divide workers.”

Tactics include forcing frontline supervisors to be “frontline soldiers” in the anti-union drive, delivering letters, speeches and talking points prepared by union-busters. The website also warns workers about mandatory 1-on-1 meetings with management “to decipher employees’ feelings about the union and persuade them against the union,” and about mass “captive-audience” meetings-sometimes with planted anti-union questions.

Management can also use “divide and conquer” tactics based on race or ethnicity and legal and procedural delays to the vote, the website says.

“A union buster’s specialty is hammering out materials – be it cartoons, leaflets or management correspondence – to make the case against the union,” IAM’s website warning adds. “92 percent of companies involved in organizing drives mail anti-union materials to employees’ homes.”

Photo: Workers assemble Boeing 787 Dreamliners at the company’s massive assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. The Machinists union on Monday, March 16, 2015 asked the National Labor Relations Board to set an election so Boeing production workers at the plant can decide whether they want union representation. About 2,500 plant workers are expected to be eligible to vote. Bruce Smith/AP



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.