After a bitter campaign, the roughly 3,000 workers voted by 3 to 1 against joining the Machinists union.
Nearly eight years after production workers at Boeing’s 787 manufacturing plant in South Carolina ousted the Machinists union, a much enlarged workforce voted decisively Wednesday to keep the union out.
The result was a blowout.
Out of the approximately 3,000 workers eligible to vote in North Charleston, 2,828 cast ballots, with 74 percent voting against the International Association of Machinists (IAM).
That means the union actually lost support during the final weeks of the campaign. At the outset, somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the workforce had signed cards requesting the election, implying support for the union.
Elliott Slater, a mechanic at the plant who lobbied for the union, said the result was a solid union defeat.
“I’m deeply frustrated and depressed,” Slater said. “I figured it would be close. But it is what it is: the will of the people.”
Another worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of company retaliation, said the company succeeded in turning many workers off the union when in recent all-hands meetings managers showed a video clip in which IAM International President Robert Martinez, Jr. fiercely denounced “free riders,” workers represented by the union who don’t pay dues — which is common in so-called “right-to-work” states like South Carolina.
Cynthia Ramaker, a quality inspector who was president of the IAM at the plant when the union represented the workers there for less than two years, but later turned against the union, said she was pleasantly shocked at the size of the no vote.
“Dang, that’s huge,” she said. “Wow.”
She said workers were concerned by the uncertainty of what the IAM’s coming in could mean. “We know what we’ve got now, and it’s not so bad,” Ramaker said. “They didn’t know what they’d get if they voted yes.”
Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager at Boeing South Carolina, issued a statement vowing “to move forward as one team.”
President Donald Trump is scheduled to visit the site’s final-assembly plant on Friday for the rollout of the first 787-10, the largest model in the Dreamliner jet family that will be built exclusively in South Carolina.
“It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event,” Robinson-Berry said.
The result followed an aggressive TV, billboard and social-media campaign mounted by Boeing to keep the IAM out of the company’s East Coast redoubt.
IAM lead organizer Mike Evans expressed disappointment at the outcome and lamented the company’s tactics.
“Boeing management spent a lot of money,” Evans said in a statement. “The company’s anti-union conduct reached new lows.”
He vowed that the union would not give up its ambition to represent the workers, but after two failed attempts that looks unlikely anytime soon.
Under National Labor Relations Board rules, workers must wait at least a year before another vote for union representation.
The odds were always stacked against the IAM in South Carolina, a state that is politically and legally hostile to unions. It has the lowest percentage of union members of any state in the United States, 2.6 percent of employed workers.
And with membership not mandatory in a unionized workplace in a “right-to-work” state, the rate of union membership is even lower, just 1.6 percent.
Wednesday’s result came almost two years after the IAM called off a previous vote when, after another bitterly fought propaganda campaign with the company, union organizers realized they lacked a majority.