Vote delay for Boeing wise plan, union says

The parts come together in Boeing Co.’s 1.2-million-square-foot final assembly facility in North Charleston, one of two sites where the wide-body Dreamliner commercial airplane are made. Production and maintenance workers at Boeing’s facilities here are scheduled to vote April 22 on whether they want to be represented by the International Association of Machinists union.

With door-to-door visits raising more questions than answers this past week, organizers with the International Association of Machinists union say it’s in their best interests to withdraw a petition for an organizing vote at Boeing Co. so they can continue to recruit workers for a future vote six months down the road.

“That’s a correct read,” said IAM spokesman Frank Larkin, referring to the benefits of regrouping instead of going ahead with a scheduled April 22 vote.

Larkin said the union had not made a final decision as of Thursday, but “the campaign has a long way to go.”

“In a difficult campaign like this, to go to an election the first time would surprise everyone involved,” he said.

The IAM could withdraw its petition for a union vote at any time before April 22. Larkin said a decision could come as soon as Friday. He said most of the visits to Boeing workers’ homes have ended.

Boeing South Carolina spokeswoman Candy Eslinger did not respond to requests for comments. On its Twitter account Thursday afternoon, Boeing South Carolina stated: “On April 22, we encourage all 3,000 eligible ... teammates to get out and vote — every vote matters!”

Mike Evans, the union’s local organizer, said Boeing has created a “toxic environment” at its North Charleston production facilities that might be difficult for the IAM to overcome in less than a week.

Evans said most Boeing workers have welcomed union officials into their homes, but “a lot of people are still confused.”

“We’re clearing up a lot of outright lies Boeing has told and we still see the need to share the benefits of collective bargaining,” he said.

Evans said the home visits have included “really detailed conversations” between union organizers and workers, but the IAM is at a disadvantage.

“Our ability to have access to employees has been extremely limited,” he said. “Our first real opportunity to talk to workers didn’t come until about 12 days ago.”

Although the IAM has been meeting with Boeing workers since the union opened a local office last year, the union did not have a list of all 3,175 employees who are eligible to vote until this month. About 125 IAM officials and volunteers have used that list to call on employees at their homes over the past week in an intensified effort to recruit voters.

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However, Evans said “aggressive” tactics by an anti-union law firm Boeing hired to sway workers, misinformation spread on the production floor and outside interference by politicians hostile to the union, such as Gov. Nikki Haley, “have definitely tainted the water.”

Now that union officials know who is eligible to vote, they say it makes sense to delay the matter so its “education campaign” can continue.

“Even if the date is withdrawn, the campaign will go forward,” Evans said, adding that the IAM will continue to meet with workers to “explain the benefits of collective bargaining.”

Larkin said a vote ultimately will occur, whether it’s next week or six months from now.

If the IAM withdraws its current petition for a vote, 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.

Maintenance and production workers at three Boeing facilities — the Dreamliner factory adjacent to Charleston International Airport and airplane interiors and engine manufacturing sites at Palmetto Commerce Park — are scheduled to vote next week on whether they want the IAM to represent them in collective bargaining with Boeing. The IAM filed a petition last month to hold the vote but recently signaled it might withdraw the petition to focus on recruiting workers for another vote down the road.

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