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Boeing union fight gets personal in South Carolina

Author: Kenric Ward

Source: WatchDog.org

January 23, 2015

AP Photo

“The International Association of Machinists has never, never believed in us,” Haley said in her State of the State address Wednesday. “They sued us, they tried to shut us down.

“So, every time you hear a Seattle union boss carry on about how he has the best interest of the Boeing workers in Charleston at heart, remember this: If it was up to that same union boss, there would be no Boeing workers in Charleston.”

Boeing is helping Haley amplify the anti-union message. Chaney Adams, spokeswoman for the Republican governor, said the aerospace giant paid for a new radio ad in which Haley urges Boeing’s South Carolina workers not to join the union.

The IAM wants to crack the Palmetto State’s right-to-work law and hold Boeing to a union contract like the one in force at the company’s home base in Washington state. The labor union is using billboards and other media to wage its campaign.

“It’s a tactical move to try to protect jobs in Washington state,” said Patrick Semmens, spokesman for the National Right to Work Committee in Springfield, Virginia. “If (the union) gets in, jobs in Washington will be more important because union dues are required there.”

Right-to-work states such as South Carolina prohibit forced dues, and Semmens calls that “an important check.” But collective bargaining is legal, and gives extensive power to unions.

“The terms of a one-size-fits-all contract could hurt workers,” Semmens said. “For example, seniority may be helpful to some workers, and not others.”

The IAM’s organizing drive follows a failed attempt to get the National Labor Relations Board to shut the South Carolina plant in 2011.

The union suffered a crucial defeat when employees at Vought Aircraft Industries’ facility – where Boeing eventually landed — voted to decertify the IAM.

“If I were a (Boeing) worker in South Carolina, I’d say the reason the plant exists is because the people before me got rid of the IAM,” Semmens said.

Ted Pitts, president and CEO of the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, said the state’s workers “are more than capable of making their own choices without interference from outside union bosses.”

Further channeling Haley’s attack on the IAM, Pitts complained that the union called Charleston a “swamp.”

“The IAM is only interested in collecting dues from its members, and as more and more workers across this nation figure out their real intentions, their dues are shrinking,” Pitts said.

John Steinberger, chairman of the Charleston County Republican Party, said he would be “shocked” if South Carolina’s Boeing workers unionized.

“Our productivity is higher because employees have a symbiotic relationship with employers – not an adversarial one. Everyone wins,” Steinberger said.

BMW, Honda, Michelin and Firestone have large plants in South Carolina; none have unions there.

Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger said the company’s workers “deserve to pave their own future and keep their hard-earned money in their own pockets, rather than be locked into a contract and pay union dues to an organization that hasn’t contributed one bit to job growth in South Carolina and has repeatedly insulted our teammates, their experience and capabilities.”

The firm said its local production and maintenance employees earn “higher average total compensation than the average worker and the average manufacturing worker in South Carolina.” IAM’s most recent collective bargaining agreements at Boeing locations across the country were negotiated based on local labor markets.

IAM spokesman Frank Larkin acknowledged that pay scales under a union contract would not be significantly different for less-experienced workers. “But that changes after 5 or 10 years on the job,” he said.

The driving issue, Larkin said, “is the number of management changes” at the South Carolina plant. “The rules change with new supervisors. A degree of stability is needed.”

Without providing specifics or a time line, Larkin reported that workers continue to submit cards calling for a union election. “The campaign is gathering momentum,” he said.

The push to unionize workers in South Carolina is similar to attempts to organize employees at a Volkswagen manufacturing facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, members of the National Right to Work Foundation say two German labor groups have failed to completely disclose their full level of involvement in the United Auto Workers’ attempts to set up shop in Chattanooga.

The United Auto Workers wants to establish itself at the Chattanooga plant, though the UAW’s attempts have so far been unsuccessful. VW workers, by a tally of 712-626, voted in February not to join the UAW.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for Watchdog.org and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward

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