Boeing workers in South Carolina got a negative mailing to their homes this past week as the company urges its blue-collar workers to ignore overtures from the union, which claims it is close to its signature-gathering goal.
As the U.S. presidential campaign ended Tuesday, Boeing workers in South Carolina got a negative mailing to their homes that signaled a new election campaign is just kicking into gear: Boeing against the Machinists union.
This one also promises to be intensely hostile as Boeing tries to persuade its blue-collar workers in North Charleston, S.C., to ignore overtures from the union and not sign cards that would trigger a vote on whether the union will represent them.
International Association of Machinists (IAM) organizer Mike Evans said Tuesday in an interview that the union needs only 102 more employees to sign cards before it will call a vote of the roughly 3,000 eligible workers at the North Charleston, S.C., manufacturing complex.
Technically, the union needs 30 percent of the workforce to sign the cards requesting a vote, but Evans said he wants more than that to provide a cushion that suggests the union has a good shot at winning.
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“We’re close,” said Evans. “This has been a long campaign. I feel we’re going to have something relatively soon. The company knows it.”
Boeing management is correspondingly ratcheting up its efforts to stop the union organizing.
The brochure mailed out this past weekend to the homes of its workers alleges that after Mack Trucks opened a manufacturing plant in Winnsboro, S.C., in 1987, a contract imposed by the United Auto Workers union forced its closure 15 years later.
“We felt it was relevant,” said Boeing spokeswoman Elizabeth Merida. “It shows what can happen when a union puts its interests ahead of the workers.”
Evans described the argument as weak, since Mack Trucks closed long after the union contract was negotiated during a downturn in the trucking business.
Boeing’s tactic is intended “to scare and mislead people,” Evans said. “They feel the pressure of this slipping away, so now they are reaching out to the families in an aggressive manner.”
Both sides have created elaborate websites to argue their case.
Boeing’s site tells workers, “You know what’s scary? The web of deception that the IAM continues to weave about what it could do for you.”
The IAM site includes its own slick brochure denouncing the company’s “smear tactics.”
Last April, the International Association of Machinists called off its most recent effort to organize the Boeing South Carolina plant, canceling the vote when it appeared the union didn’t have enough support.
Since then, one factor that may be working in the union’s favor is that Boeing has eliminated some 350 jobs out of a total workforce now just less than 8,000.
Unlike at its unionized Puget Sound-region factories, Boeing has shed those jobs in South Carolina almost entirely through attrition, without any forced layoffs or even voluntary buyouts.
“We’ve been a little bit lucky here,” Merida said.
However, Evans said, management has been tough with the workforce, writing people up and firing them for minor offenses, which he called a policy of “whisper layoffs,” or forced layoffs in all but name.