The union said it is withdrawing its request for the vote because of what it called “a toxic environment.”
Facing intense hostility from Boeing management, South Carolina politicians and local workers canvassed during a fraught election campaign, the Machinists union canceled the vote that was set for next week in an effort to organize some 3,000 Boeing employees in North Charleston, S.C.
In a statement Friday, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) cited “an atmosphere of threats, harassment and unprecedented political interference.”
It said that because the “toxic environment” resulted in “gross violations of workers’ lawful organizing rights,” it will file unfair labor-practice charges against Boeing with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The union said it was forced to call off its door-to-door canvassing campaign this week after two organizers were greeted with homeowners brandishing guns as they ordered them off their property and “others reported hostile and near-violent confrontations.”
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Boeing spokesman Doug Alder dismissed the IAM’s allegations as “frivolous.”
Cynthia Ramaker, a quality inspector at the plant who led a worker campaign against the organizing effort, said the union “blamed everybody and everything but themselves.”
“Not having enough people for the vote, that’s the bottom line,” said Ramaker in an interview. “Everybody I’ve talked to is very glad it’s over for now.”
In a statement, Beverly Wyse, the Boeing vice president who runs the manufacturing complex, emphasized that the union had said it would withdraw ”if it lacked the support of Boeing South Carolina’s teammates.”
“We now have the opportunity to make Boeing South Carolina and our local community an even better place to work and live,” Wyse said.
The IAM filed its petition for a union-organizing vote March 16 after more than 30 percent of Boeing workers signed authorization cards expressing interest in union representation.
Last weekend, after the NLRB released to the union a list of the names and addresses of all employees eligible to vote, the union began a door-to-door canvassing blitz asking workers to sign cards saying they’d vote for the union.
That effort, which reached more than 1,700 workers, soon convinced the union that it didn’t have the necessary 51 percent of the votes.
“After speaking with Boeing workers who we were previously unable to reach, we’ve determined now is not the right time for an election,” said lead IAM organizer Mike Evans.
He said the hostile atmosphere “has intimidated workers to the point we don’t believe a free and fair election is possible.”
“I hold the Boeing Co., South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and their surrogates responsible for creating an atmosphere of state-sanctioned hostility toward unions and union organizers,” he added.
Ramaker said her internal anti-union campaign had an impact on the outcome.
She said it allowed newer workers to hear directly from people like her who were working at the plant then owned by Boeing’s 787 partner Vought in 2008 when the IAM succeeded with a similar vote and represented the workforce for just over a year.
Union friend, then foe
Ramaker supported that effort and was elected as the union’s local president.
However, after the IAM pushed through a poor initial contract, attitudes quickly soured.
When Boeing bought out Vought and offered to locate a second 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, the workforce voted to decertify the union.
Ramaker said she saw no active intimidation of anyone interested in voting for the union during the current campaign, but said she’s not surprised IAM organizers met open hostility on South Carolina doorsteps.
“Sure, there’s a lot of people that didn’t want the union,” she said. “They probably met those people that weren’t too happy about them knocking on their door.”
Evans said the IAM will continue to pursue its goal of organizing the plant, though a new vote cannot be scheduled for at least six months.
“Boeing workers reached out to us initially because they wanted to be treated fairly on the job and build a better, more secure life for themselves and their families,” said Evans. “Boeing’s campaign of rumors and threats may have succeeded in delaying this election, but the fight to win collective-bargaining rights for thousands of Boeing South Carolina workers is far from over.”