Boeing workers in South Carolina overwhelmingly reject union

Boeing shoots a plane into the air like a rocket
Boeing shoots a plane into the air like a rocket

Boeing's newest plant in South Carolina will remain nonunion after workers there overwhelmingly rejected an effort by the Machinist union to organize the plant.

According to a company statement, more than 2,000 of the nearly 3,000 Boeing workers at the plant eligible to vote in the closely watched election voted against the union, and only a bit more than 700 members voted yes.

"We will continue to move forward as one team," said Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina. "We have a bright future ahead of us and are eager to focus on the accomplishments of this great team."

Manufacturers have been drawn to the South because the region is strongly anti-union. Less than 2% of South Carolina workers are union members, the lowest unionization rate in the nation. Boeing (BA) spent billions to open its North Charleston plant, arguing it needs to assure customers who buy the 787 Dreamliner, which is built there, that the plant wouldn't go on strike.

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A win would have given the Machinists, who represent most Boeing factory workers, even more leverage over Boeing in future labor talks. The loss could further encourage other manufacturers to open union-free plants in the South.

The vote was seen as an uphill battle for the union, which dropped plans for a vote last year. About 40% to 50% of organizing votes fail.

"Boeing management spent a lot of money to make sure power and profits remained concentrated at the very top," said Mike Evans, the union's chief organizer. The union will now have to wait at least a year to petition for another representation vote. "The IAM remains committed to getting Boeing South Carolina workers the respect, wages and consistency they deserve."

boeing 787 assembly south carolina
Boeing's South Carolina assembly line, where workers voted Wednesday not to join the Machinist union.

The plant will get additional attention this week as President Donald Trump plans to visit the plant Friday to mark the completion of the first 787-10, the newest version of the Dreamliner. "It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event," said Robinson-Berry.

Wages were a key issue in the vote. The union says South Carolina workers earn about $10 an hour less than union members at Boeing's Washington state plants.

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For its part, Boeing says pay scales are driven by wages in the local market, and that the South Carolina plant already pays better than a union-represented Boeing plant in Alabama. The company emphasized the cost of union dues, about $800 a year, as well as the risk that the workers could be caught up in a strike they opposed.

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