IAM may be playing with fire in SC union vote

June 20, 2018, © Leeham News: The International Association of Machinists may be playing with fire.

Puget Sound’s IAM 751 may be burned in the process.

The Charleston Post and Courier reported that the IAM will file a labor grievance over Boeing’s refusal to recognize certification of a “micro-union” while the company appeals the legality of its creation.

“Boeing ignores us at their own peril,” the newspaper quotes a union official.

The union may be pursuing this at its own peril.

At stake is where Boeing will assemble the prospective New Midmarket Aircraft, or NMA (aka 797).

The New Midmarket Aircraft site selection will be discussed at the Southeast Aerospace & Defence Conference next week in Mobile (AL). Click here for more information.


A small, sub-group of workers at Boeing’s Charleston (SC) 787 assembly plant voted last month by a wide margin (61.5% to 38.5%) to unionize, with the IAM representing them. The flight line workers are a small group—the vote was 104-65.

Boeing contends this is a “micro-union,” prohibited under federal law. It will appeal to the National Labor Relations Board, which under President Donald Trump is now seen by many as pro-business and anti-labor.

The national IAM claims Boeing is obligated to begin negotiating a contract with the new unit. Boeing refuses to turn over relevant information. The IAM plans to file an unfair labor practices complaint.

Camel’s nose under the tent

The micro-unit is viewed by some as the camel’s nose under the tent toward re-unionizing the Charleston plant, something Boeing staunchly opposes.

When the plant was owned by Vought and Global Aeronautica, the IAM successfully organized workers. But after Boeing purchased the facility and held out the prospect of locating a second 787 assembly line there, workers voted to decertify the IAM.

The IAM tried twice to re-organize the workers. The first vote was called off, with allegations of intimidation cited by the IAM.

The union lost the vote in the next effort.

With the success this third time, both sides look for the IAM to try at some point to organize more workers.

Seeking the 797

All this happened, and is happening, against the backdrop of a major campaign in the Puget Sound area to persuade Boeing to site the NMA/797 assembly line at the Everett (WA) plant, where Boeing’s wide-body aircraft (except for 787 line 2) are built.

A campaign, Choose Washington State, included IAM 751 as a contributor.

But 751, although not directly involved in the Charleston vote, weighed in with a statement on the results—one that certainly did not go unnoticed by Boeing.

“District 751 would like to congratulate the flight line mechanics in Charleston (SC) who have successfully stood up to the Boeing Company and very strongly stated that “we want rights on the job,” 751 posted on its website. “All the captive audience meetings had no impact. The workers were not intimidated and chose to be represented by the IAM. This is the first step in their efforts to gain fairness and a voice on the job.”

Neither the union vote, unfair labor practices complaint nor the 751 statement will help the cause of locating the NMA assembly site in heavily-unionized Puget Sound.


33 Comments on “IAM may be playing with fire in SC union vote

  1. Totally agree with the article. It’s pretty comical really, how quickly the militant “anti Boeing” attitude can be revealed by IAM 751 in particular.

    I don’t see any chance the NMA would be sited in Washington though, and even the governor said there’d be no new state level incentive plan to do so. They’ll simply build the wings there, maybe add a few jobs for that.

  2. 751 has plenty of reason to be pretty militant, Boeing has screwed them over time and again for the sole goal of “shareholder value” (read pumping the stock at the expense of the long term good of the company to improve C-Suite compensation)

    but yeah, it is pretty dumb to gloat about such a minor (and likely temporary) win in SC.

    the NMA will be largely engineered in Brazil by McBoBraer so that Boeing can finally break the back of SPEEA, significant manufacturing will likely happen there also, with only final assembly of fully prestuffed subassemblies happening in the US so they can claim US manufacture for tax breaks and EXIM loans.

    Renton has at best 10 years left. NSA will be engineered almost entirely in Brazil and Russia, manufactured wherever is cheapest and snapped together wherever the local government will pay the most for it to happen.

  3. Might also be a nail in the coffin for locating the 797 plant in Charleston.

    With regards to this comment: “751 has plenty of reason to be pretty militant, Boeing has screwed them over time and again for the sole goal of “shareholder value””, how many Puget Sound blue collar workers are better paid than IAM 751 workers? I’d venture a guess that the answer is precious few.

    • how many Puget sound blue collar workers (other than IAM 751) are doing aircraft manufacture?

      there is a bit of a difference between pouring concrete and welding rebar and building 737s.

      (not suggesting that construction workers don’t deserve to get paid and paid well. blue collar workers in this country other than plumbers are woefully underpaid and undervalued)

      • “there is a bit of a difference between pouring concrete and welding rebar and building 737s.”

        You are absolutely right.

        Get something wrong on the 737 and hundreds could die (although there are many QC checks to prevent that). Get something wrong pouring concrete and welding rebar and thousands could die and there are far fewer QC checks.

        Build a 737 indoors in a temperature-controlled, clean, safe environment vs. construction outdoors in inclement weather in a much more dangerous work environment.


  4. It has been argued that the greater the discrepancy between the highest paid and the lowest paid employees of a company, the lower is the proportion of the work-force that is in an union or association. I suspect that many employees at the lower levels of the Boeing hierarchy are well aware of this – possibly correct – premise.

  5. Shareholders, and the board, shouldn’t give a damn about wage disparities.

    They should care about share prices. This is the fundamental principle of corporate governance that has lifted more from poverty than any insane other system.

    Boeing is on quite a roll the past 25 years.

    • um, no. that is corporatist propaganda (i.e. lies)

      take a look at the levels of poverty and working conditions “free market capitalism” provided before the rise of unions, the 40 hr work week, worker safety laws etc.

      tell me again how free market capitalism and slave wages are good for the poors?

      the hallowed 1950s were built on a foundation of 93% tax brackets and strong unions.

      • And the massive rise in stock prices in the last 8 years is largely down to the near zero interest rates, which have 2 effects. One is low rates lead to investing in stocks for higher returns and the low rates means corporations can borrow cheaply to buy back stock.

      • I’m sorry, but what you have said is simply wrong. Let me ask you a question: why was it that under a strong free market with extremely low levels of government regulation, extremely limited government and strong economic business freedom that Hong Kong between 1961 to 1979 closed the wealth gap between the rich and poor proven by the Gini coefficient?

        Not to mention the hallowed 1950s was just myth, remember there were three recessions during Eisenhower’s administration—July 1953 through May 1954, August 1957 through April 1958, and April 1960 through February 1961

        • Using Hong Kong as an example how the USA (or every other country) should be run is a really bad idea.

          From wikipedia page about Gini coefficient:
          “Using the Gini can help quantify differences in welfare and compensation policies and philosophies. However it should be borne in mind that the Gini coefficient can be misleading when used to make political comparisons between large and small countries or those with different immigration policies (see limitations of Gini coefficient section).”

          Also, you’re kind of cherry picking data. Why stop at 1979, and not 1981? If you would have picked 20 years instead of 18 there would be hardly any drop in Gini coefficient.

          For a more detailed analysis of that period in Hong Kong you’d have to make an apples to apples comparison. Singapore would be a good candidate to compare it with.

          Another point of contention is how laissez faire Hong Kong really was.
          For instance various social welfare schemes (housing, jobseeker allowance, elderly allowance etc) were started during the time you mentioned.

          • There is nothing wrong to use Hong Kong to compare with other countries, what we shouldn’t be allow to do so. Even we factoring the military spending for the British military in Hong Kong, Hong Kong government can still be financially sound.

            I didn’t cherry picking data, because after 1979, Hong Kong government has become a more interventionist, by increasing the government spending rapidly, from the government owned metro, to rapid expansion of the government owned airport to the increase of the welfare, which in turn explain the increase of the Gini coefficient.

            When you talk about all the social welfare schemes, it only further proves you have no idea what you are talking. There were no job seeker and elderly allowance during the period of time that I mention, and the social rental housing scheme was only minimal for those who are absolutely poor, the ironic fact is after the Home Ownership Scheme was introduced, the Gini coefficient went up.

          • I’m open to alternative analysis. Both can be argued.
            Alternative facts though?

            As a reaction to your “facts”:
            Jobseeker allowance, elderly allowance, and disabled allowance all started during the time you mentioned.

            In 1978 the amount of people living government public housing was over 2 million (46% of the population).

            On the analysis front:
            1961-1979 Hong Kong is not a good comparison to 1961-1979 USA (or modern day USA) because of the different economic stage either country was in, also the small size of Hong Kong (in population and economy) makes Gini coefficient (on income or wealth) a bad method to compare it with the USA.

          • My facts are not alternative facts, it only further proves you have no idea what you are talking about.

            The so call job seeker allowance in fact is part of the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, and the maximum amount any applicant can claim monthly when it was introduced was less than 30% of the average wage of the daily wage of an ordinary worker, the amount of allowance is simply so small that can be ignored when comparing with other welfare states.

            Next, the elderly allowance is very minimal too, when it was introduced in 1973, only elder that are older than 75, which is around 1.2% of the population of the time, and the monthly payment is less than 25% of the daily wage of an ordinary worker, the amount of allowance again is simply so small that can be ignored when comparing with other countries.

            The same situation on the disable allowance, as only those has lost 100% of their capability to earn money can be granted such allowance, and the monthly payment is less than 40% of the daily wage of an ordinary worker,the amount of allowance again is simply once again so small that can be ignored when comparing with other countries.

            Next, based on the official record from the Hong Kong Housing Authority, the certified maximum capacity of public housing in 1978 was less than 900K people, with around 4.8 Million population at that time in Hong Kong. In order words, there were maximum not more than 19% of the population was in public housing, once again you facts were wrong.

            There is nothing wrong to comparing stages of development of economy, if Hong Kong can achieve a huge transformation, then other countries can also do it, in fact if the USA has done the same thing, the whole society will be much richer than the current level.

          • So on 1961-1979 you went from claiming this: “There were no job seeker and elderly allowance during the period of time that I mention, ”

            But now you write elderly allowance started in 1974.

            And according to your data it was no more than 900k or 19% of the population living in social housing.
            If we take your number/percentage and use that for current day USA, that would be 62 million people living in public housing, subsidized housing etc.

            in your last post: “There is nothing wrong to comparing stages of development of economy, if Hong Kong can achieve a huge transformation, then other countries can also do it, in fact if the USA has done the same thing, the whole society will be much richer than the current level.”

            The problem is you’re trying to compare HK 61-79 era when it massively expanded basic manufacturing. To a country, USA, that was (in that time frame) or is (now) way ahead of that.
            Do you want to turn the USA in to a sweat shop?

            Since you’ve mentioned a few times I have no idea what I’m talking about. I have to say, that’s a really strong point, and I concede.
            You sir have won the internet.

          • If you have a chances to review the data that I presented, it means all the allowances were not exceeding 2% of the monthly payment of an ordinary worker. With such a low amount of allowances, there is little if not no impact at all, so it is reasonable for me to say there is no such allowances at all in practice.

            The maintenance of the public housing is not really that well either in Hong Kong,with different problems from sewage to ceiling issues, while the repairing works were done very slowly. My solution is to use the negative income tax to replace all the welfare, so people have the incentive to come out to work and at the same time have some money to decide what they want to spend.

            Your comparison on basic manufacturing was also wrong. Basic manufacturing is well known of low profit margin, if the US can adapt free market again, this will in fact have a much better result because the US manufacturing industry is mainly based on high end manufacturing, this can lead to more high end manufacturing businesses move in to US.

  6. I find the American union system and surrounding regulations very foreign.

    Where I live, in North-Western Europe, everyone has the right to be a member of any union they like. If you are a member of a union they will represent you and negotiate terms of your employment on your behalf.

    The is freedom to unionize is guaranteed and protected by law, and you get slightly reduced income tax if you are a member of a union. I don’t see the point of voting. Membership in your chosen union is a personal preference, though is good to chose a union that has many members at your employer. Who is unionized is defined as a highly sensitive personal information, and there has the benefit of special protection in the General Data Protection Regulation of the EU.

    Talking about a factory that is or isn’t unionized, or “micro-unit” is very foreign and hard to understand what the meaning and implications are.

    If Boeing offers different terms for employment and/or lower salary levels at its Charleston factory, compared to factory in Everett, workers at Charleston should enroll in the union that has negotiated with Boeing and achieved the best terms for their members. If Boeing are unwilling to give workers in Charleston the same salary as workers in Everett, then go on strike. If there are not enough members at Charleston to get Boeings attention, then the union should strike at Everett in solidarity with the workers at Charleston. Stopping the production lines at Everett surly would get Boeing to the negotiation table.

    Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains!

    • Much the same here in Canada – in many ways the US is the outlier in the Western world when it comes to the legislated rights of employees. Certainly employers seem to be able to negotiate with political groupings such as states limitations on employee bargaining which would result in punitive penalties elsewhere.

    • You forgot about state taxes being different. On top of that living costs can be very different too.

      From an EU perspective, big companies pay different wages in different EU countries. Imagine you work at Renault in France, will you strike because Romanians working at Dacia get 1/4 of what you get paid?

    • The US unions are different from the Western Europe ones, it is not as easy working with US unions as it is working with them in Western Europe where common interests for reputation, profits and respect is normally high from both sides in Europe where there is more of a fight between workers compensation vs shareholder paybacks in the US. (France might sometimes be an exception in the EU)

  7. So what 751 should do is decertify itself so there is no longer an issue.

  8. Excuse my ignorance, but does the term “captive audience meetings” mean what I fear it means? That is, that the employer forces employees to attend particular employer-sponsored gatherings?

    If so, they sound – to my ignorant mind – to be brainwashing at worst, or propaganda at best, sessions. [Emotive terms.]

    If someone could clarify the term, I would appreciate it.

  9. What is not being said is that “Cowering Workers” are supposed to stay cowered. IAM 751 is supposed to commit honorable Hari Kari by the logic.

    Nothing labor will do other than pay management to allow them to work is going to make any difference.

    Some day the worm will turn. Sadly when it does, its going to be messy.

    It takes good intent on both side to work out a fair deal for the company and labor. Management these days could care less.

    Me? I hope to hang it up, it won’t be golden years but I think we can putt along. One key is that dastardly Socialist Medicare. Costs are controlled (well other than drugs the American Management elected to allow full boat on and then blame the users of course) – the poor drug company management babies have to make money some how don’t they? Who would buy their yacht if not for us?

    When I quit, 50 years of work experience goes with me. Background and experience is unique, they will never get the like of it again.

    After a disaster we kept telling them was in the making, one manager said (after I was up to 2 am doing what I could to keep it from getting worse) “They Will Pay for This one”.

    I looked at him and said, no, I did, I got called out, I figured out how to staunch the flow of blood, its going to take me a week to recover and I will be dealing with the aftermath.

    They will just sweep it under the rug and not miss a beat.

    Boeing 787 Program Disaster is the poster child of that.

    All they have done is try to kill the union ever since. All the fat cats retired with big bucks.

    So maybe the Union has it right, you can die a whimpering death or you can fight.

    My motto was go down fighting, or as our not so Illustrious el Presidente’ said “What Have YOU Got to Loose?”

    • Well, you could “loose” your tie, your belt, etc. Try not to lose your shoes and/or your wallet!

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