Boeing Co. says it won't negotiate with the union that a group of North Charleston workers voted to join in May until its appeal of the election is decided, a move that could spark retaliation by the International Association of Machinists.
Flight-line employees at the 787 Dreamliner campus voted 104-65 to have the IAM represent them in collective bargaining with the aerospace giant. The National Labor Relations Board certified the election last week, but Boeing said it plans to appeal an earlier NLRB decision that let the voting proceed in the first place.
"We continue to strongly believe that this micro-unit is prohibited under federal law and we are appealing to the NLRB," Boeing said in a statement. "We do not intend to recognize the IAM as the lawful representative of our teammates while the appeal is pending."
Boeing has two weeks from the June 12 election certification to file an appeal. No appeal had been filed as of Monday, according to the NLRB's website.
Mike Evans, the IAM's lead organizer in North Charleston, said Boeing was legally obligated to begin talks once certification took place. He said the union will file an unfair labor practices complaint against Boeing if the company refuses to negotiate.
"We are the representative of those workers on the flight line and we will exercise every right we have to make sure those workers have the opportunity to exercise their right to bargain," Evans said. "Boeing ignores us at their own peril."
The IAM last week sent a letter to David Carbon, site director for the North Charleston plant, seeking wage, benefit, job description and other information about the local flight-line employees and work policies. Boeing said it won't provide the information.
"Boeing has declined the IAM’s demand to begin the contract bargaining process on our flight line teammates’ behalf," the company said in a statement.
Evans said it could take months before the NLRB considers whether to hear Boeing's appeal or acts on an unfair labor practices complaint.
"This is just a continuation of delay after delay by Boeing," Evans said.
The IAM filed a petition on March 5 to represent the North Charleston flight-line workers, who make sure the Dreamliners assembled at the manufacturing campus are airworthy. Boeing then challenged the petition, claiming the union was trying to carve out an illegal subset of the company's highly integrated manufacturing workforce.
A hearing on the matter was held in March and the NLRB's regional director said in a May 21 ruling that the flight-line workers have distinct work rules, salaries, licensing requirements and other factors that qualify them for representation separate from the rest of Boeing's employees. Boeing tried unsuccessfully to delay the May 31 election.
This was the third time the IAM attempted to organize Boeing workers in North Charleston. The first, in 2015, ended when the IAM withdrew its petition days before a scheduled election. Last year, roughly 3,000 workers throughout the company's manufacturing campus overwhelmingly rejected the union.
While the numbers were small, last month's win was seen as a historic victory for organized labor in South Carolina, where just 2.6 percent of workers belong to a union, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state's anti-union history was one of the reasons Boeing cited in its 2009 decision to build a second Dreamliner campus in North Charleston to join a factory in Everett, Wash.
While Boeing has fought the IAM's attempts to organize North Charleston workers, the union represents more than 35,000 of the company's workers in 24 locations nationwide, mostly on the West Coast.