Union using Boeing worker house calls to gauge support, might withdraw petition

Production and maintenance workers at Boeing Co.’s North Charleston facilities, including the Dreamliner campus, are scheduled to vote April 22 on whether they want to be represented by the International Association of Machinists. The union is gauging its support and whether to go forward with the vote.

The International Association of Machinists might withdraw its petition for an April 22 vote at Boeing South Carolina if too many employees signal a lack of support for union representation, a representative said Friday.

“We’ll make a decision after there have been a sufficient number of house calls to see what level of support is there, what type of misinformation has been spread and the degree that political interference will affect the vote,” IAM spokesman Frank Larkin said. “The purpose of the house calls is to gauge support.”

Although union officials have visited workers’ homes in past months, the IAM’s petition for a vote — filed March 16 with the National Labor Relations Board — has kicked off intensified efforts to recruit Boeing employees in North Charleston.

Boeing this month gave the NLRB a list of names and home addresses of the 3,175 workers eligible to vote on union representation. About 125 IAM staff members and volunteers started using that list Thursday to call on workers at their homes.

“We have a couple dozen teams to reach as many people as possible,” Larkin said, adding that he doesn’t know when a decision will be made on whether to go forward with this month’s election.

“It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the IAM withdraws its petition based on lack of support, particularly in light of their shady tactics during their recently failed Delta campaign,” Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said.

The IAM this month withdrew its petition for a vote of Delta Air Lines flight attendants after the federal National Mediation Board determined some union authorization cards included fraudulent signatures.

“We’ve alerted our teammates to the fact that the IAM has said they’ve brought in scores of out-of-towners to knock on their doors to try to generate support,” Eslinger said. “Many of our teammates have told us directly that they don’t want or need union representation, and they want these intrusive home visits to stop.”

Mike Evans, a local IAM representative, said in a video on the union’s website that the visits are meant to “address workers’ concerns (and) issues ... so they can make an educated decision about what’s best for them and their families” when the vote is held.

“It’s imperative that we have enough support on April 22nd,” Evans said. “If there isn’t enough support during this process, we will consider withdrawing just to fall back and educate more going forward.”

Even if the IAM decides to withdraw its current petition, Larkin said, the union intends to continue recruiting Boeing South Carolina workers for a future vote.

“Other places have had a couple of elections before the union was successful,” he said.

Mike Carrouth, a Columbia lawyer who specializes in labor issues, said it is common for unions to consider withdrawing their petitions in the days leading up to an election. That’s because company officials can begin their anti-union campaigns once a petition is filed and the information from employers often sways workers who originally supported the union.

“Unions never gain momentum after a petition is filed,” Carrouth said, adding that the IAM now is trying to gauge how much momentum it might have lost.

Both sides are using billboards, radio and newspaper advertising and social media to get their message out to Boeing employees.

If the IAM withdraws its petition, it must wait at least six months from the day the election was scheduled to file for another one. If the IAM loses the April 22 election, it would have to wait at least one year before it can seek to represent Boeing workers again.

IAM officials have said a “significant number” of Boeing workers signed authorization cards expressing interest in union representation. The specific number of workers who signed cards is not being released, although the union has to get at least 30 percent of eligible employees to sign a card in order to file a petition.

Those eligible to vote include all full-time and regular part-time production and maintenance workers at Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner manufacturing site next to Charleston International Airport, as well as those at the company’s Interiors Responsibility Center and the newly opened Propulsion South Carolina plant, both at Palmetto Commerce Park off Ladson Road in North Charleston.

The question on the April 22 ballot will call for a simple “yes” or “no” answer as to whether the voter wants to be represented. The results will be tabulated immediately following the conclusion of the last voting session, which is scheduled to end at 5 p.m. Challenges to the voting process could be filed afterward.

Reach David Wren at 937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_