The Boeing Co.’s bet that it could stave off unionization at its 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston has been a winning one for both the plane maker and South Carolina so far, but it’s no time for complacency. The continued success of Boeing’s S.C. operations will depend in part on executives being sensitive to employee concerns and keeping worker salaries competitive.
Boeing workers too must realize they have to remain competitive not only with their West Coast counterparts but in a global economy. That means turning out the highest quality product possible and eliminating mistakes that could lead to claims of shoddy workmanship like those that dogged the Dreamliner plant earlier this year.
But, with the National Labor Relations Board recently ruling against the International Association of Machinists in its bid to form a “micro-union” among flight-line readiness technicians and inspectors, Boeing should at least get a little breathing room until the IAM figures out its next move. (Globally speaking, the world’s biggest commercial plane maker needs to get its grounded 737 fleet back in the air.)
Significantly, the ruling, which clarified the NLRB’s test for micro-unions, signals a shift from the Obama era. The labor board members who prevailed in the 3-1 ruling, overturning an NLRB regional director’s ruling, were all appointed by President Donald Trump. The lone dissenting vote came from an Obama appointee.
A fifth board position remains open — one the president needs to fill to bolster the majority before one management friendly board member’s term expires next August.
The panel found that the 178 flight line employees who voted last year to join the IAM “are not sufficiently distinct from the interests of the excluded employees,” a finding averse to previous “community of interest” rulings that opened the door to micro-unions under the previous presidential administration.
That may well have implications for other big manufacturing operations across the sparsely unionized South because it deprives unions of a way to get a foot in the door.
Despite the IAM losing two earlier votes to unionize Boeing’s roughly 2,700-member maintenance and production workforce before winning a May 2018 vote, 104-65, among two classes of flight line employees, the machinists’ union unsurprisingly but disappointedly has vowed to keep working to organize Boeing’s South Carolina workforce.
Meanwhile, to help soothe lingering tensions, Boeing needs to settle as quickly as possible claims of unfair labor practices filed by the union on behalf of five employees supposedly fired in retaliation for aiding the IAM.
South Carolina has become increasingly attractive to big manufacturers because it is the least unionized state in the nation, tied with North Carolina, with only 2.7 percent its workforce unionized. And the NLRB’s recent ruling should serve as an invitation to other manufacturers seeking to break free of unions and improve their competitiveness in global markets.