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Boeing Flight Line Workers Vote to Unionize in South Carolina

In this historically anti-union state, organizing even a small number of workers is a big deal.
The Boeing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina.

The Boeing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina.

In a vehemently anti-union state, one smaller group of workers has voted to organize: flight-readiness technicians employed at Boeing's South Carolina campuses voted last week to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). Though the number of workers was small—fewer than 200 out of Boeing South Carolina's thousands—the vote was "seen as a major victory for organized labor in South Carolina," the Post and Courier reports.

Union watchers have long followed the saga of Boeing and the IAM. Their relations are seen as a sign of the state of labor in America. "If it's happening at Boeing, it suggests that no unionized workforce in the private sector is immune to national trends," as sociologist Leon Grunberg told Pacific Standard earlier this year. Boeing's unions in Washington and Oregon, which have been active for decades, have remained unusually influential, despite nationwide declining membership in unions at private companies.

The IAM's fate is especially closely watched in the South, a region that has low unionization rates, vocal anti-union politicians, and many newly opened car plants—which state and local politicians attribute to business-friendly policies.

Boeing's South Carolina workers had resisted organization until now. Two company-wide IAM campaigns stalled before this; Pacific Standard reported on the aftermath of the more recent one, in February of 2017. Nevertheless, the flight line workers contacted the IAM several months later with complaints about work rules, threatened layoffs, and mandatory overtime, the Post and Courier reports. That prompted the flight line-specific organizing.

About 3,000 employees were eligible to vote during the 2017 company-wide drive, which failed in a landslide. This time, 169 people voted, 104 of them for the union and 65 of them against. Boeing says it will appeal the National Labor Relations Board's decision to allow the IAM to organize this subset of Boeing workers.