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Machinists union plans announcement; election seems likely at Boeing S.C.

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A unionization election seems likely for Boeing South Carolina’s Dreamliner campus in North Charleston.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers plans to “make a major announcement” at 7 a.m. Friday regarding the union’s attempts to unionize Boeing S.C. workers.

Union officials and community members will attend the event at the International Longshoremen’s Association Local 1422 headquarters at 1142 Morrison Drive in Charleston. Mike Evans, lead S.C. organizer for the IAM, said earlier this year that the union was close to filing for an election with the National Labor Relations Board.

The potential election comes at a pivotal time for Boeing S.C. The site recently started building the first-ever 787-10 Dreamliner and preparing to paint jets on-site, while also sending 600 voluntary layoff offers to S.C. workers.

Boeing Co. is trying to cut costs by cutting jobs across the country, which company officials said could result in involuntary layoffs in North Charleston later this year, although management said that is a last resort.

This is the second election attempt by the IAM in less than two years. An election was scheduled for April 2015, but the union canceled it a few days beforehand. The IAM said Boeing had intimidated workers to stay away from voting; Boeing said the union lacked the support and the votes needed to win.

Both the union and Boeing S.C. have continually run radio ads and other advertisements throughout the Lowcountry for several years to promote their stances.

The union continues to push for unionization of the airplane plant, saying collective bargaining rights will give workers a better voice to advocate for higher wages, better employee perks and less overtime.

Evans said in a previous interview that Boeing’s production workers should be making more to afford living in the Charleston region.

“People want to take a vacation and send their kids to college. ... All they want to do is make a decent living. Boeing can provide that. This is an excuse saying they cannot,” Evans said. “They are more concerned with shareholders and executive pay than S.C. workers.”

Past and present site leaders for Boeing S.C. have maintained that a direct relationship between management and the nearly 8,000-employee workforce is crucial for the facility to operate as it does today.

Boeing S.C. General Manager and Vice President Joan Robinson-Berry has said engineers and mechanics currently brainstorm and collaborate to find solutions to production issues, but that setup would not be possible in a unionized facility.

“Here’s what I know for sure after 35-plus years in the business: When you get a workforce that can do pretty much any innovative process — whether you are a mechanic or an engineer — and they can move around and have flexibility and have their voice directly involved at the table, I believe that’s the most productive and motivating environment,” Robinson-Berry said in a previous interview.

Boeing officials have said the union is pushing for the election to boost its dwindling membership and declining revenues.

S.C. politicians and Lowcountry leaders have spoken openly against unionization of manufacturers. Gov. Nikki Haley has repeatedly said unionized companies and union campaign efforts are not welcome in the state. State Commerce Department officials use the state’s low unionization rate as a selling point to companies.

South Carolina now has the lowest unionization rate in the country — 2.1% of the workforce was unionized in 2015 — down from 2.2% in 2014, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If workers vote to unionize the plant, negotiations would occur and a contract would have to be approved before any terms would take effect.

South Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning the union would represent the entire plant if workers voted for unionization, regardless of whether workers join or pay dues.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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