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Boeing's South Carolina bastion breached by 'micro-unit' union in rare win

Bloomberg

Boeing Co. technicians voted to form the first collective bargaining unit at the planemaker’s factory in South Carolina, scoring a rare victory for organized labor in a state traditionally hostile to unions.

The “micro-unit” will represent more than 170 flight-line workers, a small subset of the 7,000 or so mechanics who build Boeing 787 Dreamliners in North Charleston. Even so, the result gives the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers a foothold in a so-called right-to-work state. Boeing said it would challenge the election, which it contended was in violation of U.S. labor law.

“Boeing continues to believe that this type of micro-unit is prohibited by federal law,” the company said in a statement Thursday. “While we are deeply disappointed with the result and are appealing, we will come together as we continue to deliver on our customer commitments.”

The union victory marked a turnabout in a long-running struggle between Boeing’s management and the Machinists, with the South Carolina plant a crucial battleground. An attempt to organize the factory last year was rejected by 74 percent of workers, while a 2015 campaign fizzled amid an anti-union barrage led by then-Governor Nikki Haley.

Boeing was unchanged at $352.16 after the close of regular trading in New York.

Boeing decided to build a new final-assembly line for its Dreamliners in South Carolina after a 2008 machinists strike halted work at its traditional Puget Sound, Washington, manufacturing base. While the Chicago-based company builds only 787s on its campus adjacent to Charleston’s airport, the site is also a contender for a new midrange jet family that Boeing is considering.

In the Thursday vote, 104 employees voted in favor of the union while 65 voted against, according to an email from the National Labor Relations Board. There was one challenged ballot and a void vote.

Boeing has already asked the labor panel to review whether the group of workers, which the company has called “artificially gerrymandered,” should have been expanded to include additional employees at the North The victory gives a boost to the machinists’ effort to organize aerospace workers in the Southeast. South Carolina has the nation’s lowest private-sector ratio of union workers to all workers, at 1.7 percent, according to Bloomberg Law’s labor data for 2017.

The machinists have also said they’re seeking to organize workers at Airbus SE’s factory in Mobile, Alabama. The union said it already represents about 150,000 aerospace workers in North America.