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Boeing Machinists Vote Down Union in South Carolina

Feb. 15, 2017
Nearly three-quarters of votes were cast against representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

NEW YORK—Boeing workers in South Carolina voted down union representation Wednesday, handing a victory to the aerospace giant in a region historically hostile to organized labor.

Boeing said in a news release that 74% of the 2,828 votes cast supported the company and rejected the overtures of representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. 

"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 and to developing new opportunities."

Union officials expressed disappointment.

"We're disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with union representation" said IAM lead organizer Mike Evans in a statement released Wednesday night.

"But more than anything, we are disheartened they will have to continue to work under a system that suppresses wages, fosters inconsistency and awards only a chosen few."

The vote comes just two days before President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the Boeing facility in North Charleston, South Carolina, for the debut of its 787-10 Dreamliner, its latest version of the fuel-efficient midsized aircraft. The plane is scheduled to begin commercial delivery in 2018.

Boeing's investment in South Carolina was cemented with the $1 billion purchase in 2009 of Vought Aircraft Industries, which had been a supplier to Boeing on the 787 program. Analysts say the state's anti-union history was a factor in Boeing's investment decisions in the state.

The machinists union had argued that unionization was a key to protecting jobs and boosting pay so that South Carolina closes the wage gap with Boeing workers in similar jobs in the state of Washington.

The IAM blamed the result on a costly ad campaign by Boeing. The union must wait a year under federal labor laws before another vote can take place.

"Ultimately, it will be up to the workers who dictate what happens next," Evans said. 

Boeing has argued that organized labor is overpromising, and shifting the manufacturing operations into a union shop runs the risk of a crippling strike. The company has publicized video testimonials from employees thanking the company for making South Carolina a manufacturing center.

Analysts said a vote by South Carolina to become a union shop could have hit Boeing's bottom line on the 787 plane and potentially affected future investment decisions for the plant.  

The proceedings were overseen by officials from the National Labor Relations Board.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2017

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