A unit of 176 flight line mechanics at Boeing in South Carolina voted Thursday to join the Machinists union. Boeing management expressed disappointment with the result and said it will try to get the vote ruled illegal.

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Flight line mechanics at Boeing in South Carolina voted 104 to 65 Thursday to join the Machinists union. Boeing management expressed disappointment with the result and said it will try to get the vote ruled illegal.

After two failed efforts to organize the entire production workforce of more than 3,000 employees at the North Charleston manufacturing complex, in 2015 and again in 2017, the union finally succeeded in a vote of the small sub-unit representing the 176 mechanics who work on the flight line.

As it did in the two previous organizing attempts, this push by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) ran up against bitter opposition from Boeing management.

Boeing tried to stop the vote through an appeal to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), citing a December ruling by the board making it more difficult for a small group of employees within a larger company – the legal term is a “micro-unit”  – to form a separate bargaining group.

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However, last month the regional director of the NLRB, John Doyle, rejected the argument, ruling that the flight mechanics are a sufficiently distinct group with a right to decide upon separate union representation. Late Wednesday, the NLRB denied a last-minute appeal by Boeing to stay the next day’s election and impound the ballots.

Boeing also brought in anti-union consultants to talk to employees at work to persuade them not to unionize.

Mike Evans, lead organizer for the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at Boeing South Carolina in a statement called the outcome “a victory for the American worker.”

If this were a typical union organizing process, the next step would be for the IAM and Boeing management to negotiate an initial contract, which is supposed to happen within a year of the unionization vote.

“We hope Boeing does the right thing by agreeing to sit down and negotiate in good faith,” Evans said.

However, good faith negotiations look unlikely for the forseeable future. Boeing issued a statement challenging the legality of the vote and rejecting last month’s ruling.

“Boeing continues to believe that this type of micro-unit is prohibited by federal law,” Boeing said. “We are deeply disappointed with the result and are appealing.”

In a statement after the vote result was announced, the IAM District 751 president, Jon Holden, offered congratulations from Boeing’s Washington state IAM workforce to the mechanics in South Carolina “who have successfully stood up to the Boeing Company.”

“The workers were not intimidated,” Holden said.

In 2008, the IAM represented workers at the Vought-owned 787 fuselage fabrication plant at the South Carolina manufacturing complex for about a year.

When Boeing bought out Vought in 2009 and offered to locate a second 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, the workforce voted to decertify the union.

Thursday’s vote is the IAM’s first win at Boeing South Carolina since it was kicked out then. But actual representation of the workers in a contract will be suspended until Boeing’s lawyers have explored every legal avenue to block the outcome.

That will start with an appeal of Doyle’s March ruling to the full five-member NLRB board. Three of the board, a majority, were appointed by President Donald Trump, and are considered to favor management over unions.