Boeing workers, Machinists rally ahead of unionization vote

AP News
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Posted: Feb 13, 2017 10:50 AM

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Two days before South Carolina Boeing employees vote on whether to join a union, workers and union members are holding a rally in support of collective bargaining rights in the state where union membership is the lowest in the country.

Boeing workers and members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers are holding a rally Monday at the Crowne Plaza Charleston Airport Hotel in North Charleston. Organizers are expected to speak, as are members of the community who support the effort.

The rally is happening a mile from Boeing's North Charleston operation, where nearly 3,000 workers vote Wednesday on whether to form a union and be represented by the Machinists.

Boeing employs a total of about 8,000 workers in North Charleston, where it makes the 787 Dreamliner. Engineers at the 100,000-square-foot center work on everything from electromagnetics and advanced aircraft production to chemical technology. Their work is used not only for the company's commercial airliners but in defense and aerospace applications.

The Machinists petitioned the National Labor Relations Board for a vote nearly two years ago but called it off after organizers said they'd been threatened during home visits to plant employees. The union has had members in the Charleston area before, winning the right to represent workers at Vought Aircraft Industries in 2007, a plant that Boeing later bought.

Less than two years later, plant workers voted against union representation.

The global aviation company came to South Carolina in part because the state has a minuscule union presence. For decades, state politicians and business leaders have preached that unions hurt the workforce, not help it.

South Carolina is a right to work state, meaning workers can't be compelled to join unions, even if the organizations represent them. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the state's union membership — 1.6 percent — is the lowest in the country.

Boeing has headquarters in Chicago.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/