S.C.’s right-to-work prosperity

In this Dec. 19, 2013, file photo, workers assemble Boeing 787 Dreamliners at the company's massive assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

Boeing South Carolina employees aren’t the only people interested in whether they vote for union affiliation, assuming such an election takes place.

But those workers are the only ones who can decide whether they should be represented by the International Association of Machinists.

Today’s Post and Courier reports that a scheduled unionization election now seems unlikely to take place as originally set for next Wednesday. The IAM apparently wants more time to persuade workers to vote its way.

And it should come as no surprise if union officials are less than confident about prevailing.

South Carolina is a “right to work” state, where employees can’t be required to join unions to keep their jobs. And the IAM can’t dispute the impressive economic benefits South Carolinians have reaped due to our state having a largely non-union workforce.

That has been a powerful economic asset through and beyond the Great Recession.

The lack of Big Labor in the South has obviously been a driving force behind the movement of major manufacturing companies into this region over the last several decades.

Also clear: The Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board hurt the union cause here by filing a dubious suit against Boeing based on a 2010 IAM complaint.

The far-fetched charge was that the company committed illegal “intimidation” because its executives publicly said that South Carolina’s non-union climate was a major factor in their 2009 decision to put the Dreamliner plant in North Charleston.

Since when was stating the obvious against the law?

That case was dismissed in 2011 with no lasting harm done to Boeing. But it did leave a bad association for both the union and the NLRB that was doing its bidding.

As the union-heavy Rust Belt has declined, the right-to-work South — including South Carolina — has gained ground with an expanding manufacturing base.

This region now has numerous auto factories, including the BMW plant in Greer, which rolled out its 3 millionth vehicle last month with fitting fanfare.

That reflects a simple reality — when the power pendulum between management and organized labor swings too far to the latter, excessively lucrative union contracts can endanger job security by undermining a company’s competitiveness in what has become a global marketplace.

For example, unsustainable deals with the United Auto Workers have seriously hampered Detroit’s Big Three over the last several decades. The taxpayer bailout of General Motors and Chrysler was a revealing consequence.

South Carolina remains one of the least unionized states in the nation, and the state’s largely non-union workforce remains a significant drawing card for our state. A change in that status could hamper the state’s aggressive and largely successful economic development efforts, like those that helped bring Boeing to North Charleston in the first place.

Of course, the southward trend of industry doesn’t preclude workers’ right to unionize. And if and when Boeing South Carolina workers vote on whether to be represented by the IAM, that will be their business.

But the impact of such an election wouldn’t necessarily be limited to the confines of Boeing South Carolina facilities.

And if Big Labor gains a strong S.C. foothold, that could weaken South Carolina’s capacity to add even more good manufacturing jobs.