In a stunning victory for the labor movement, employees at a Boeing factory in Charleston, South Carolina have officially voted to join the International Association of Machinists.
Labor journalist Mike Elk of The Guardian broke the news on his Twitter account:
Breaking: Boeing workers in Charleston, South Carolina have voted to unionize w/ @MachinistsUnion by a margin of 104-65.
The victory wins organized labor a key toehold in a major employer in the South as efforts to #OrganizeTheSouth heat up.
— Mike Elk (@MikeElk) May 31, 2018
The Machinists’ union has, according to Elk, been trying to organize workers at the Charleston plant for more than a decade. Thursday’s 104-65 vote in favor of joining the union was a result of workers’ frustration with Boeing’s inconsistent work rules, mandatory overtime, and layoffs. Boeing even threatened workers with firings if they voted to join the union, making Thursday’s vote that much more surprising.
Workers’ decision to unionize on Thursday comes a year after an unsuccessful union vote, with 74 percent of the Charleston factory’s 2,300 employees voting against joining the Machinists.
Workers at the Charleston plant are highly skilled flight technicians who build Boeing’s line of 787 Dreamliners. Boeing says it plans to fight the legality of its workers’ petition to the National Labor Relations Board to hold the vote to unionize, meaning Thursday’s vote could potentially be rendered null and void based on whether or not the company wins its challenge.
Thursday’s unionization vote is all the more remarkable, as South Carolina has been a so-called “right to work” (RTW) state since 1954. Under RTW laws, workers are not required to pay union dues to work in a unionized workplace, which, in turn, hurts unions’ ability to organize workers and collectively bargain on behalf of members.
Proponents of RTW argue the laws are necessary to prevent people from being forced to join a union, existing federal law already forbids unions from signing up workers without their consent. According to the AFL-CIO, worker pay drops by an average of 3.1 percent when RTW laws are passed, and poverty rates are, on average, 2.5 percent higher in states with RTW laws on the books.
Boeing is, according to a 2016 list from Business Insider, the second-largest military contractor in America, with ongoing contracts worth $14.6 billion. The company is also one of America’s biggest corporate tax avoiders, paying an effective corporate tax rate of just 8.4 percent on more than $54 billion in profits between 2008 and 2017, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
Jake Shepherd is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He enjoys poring through financial disclosure statements, spirited debate, and good scotch. He remains eternally optimistic about the Browns. Email him at jake.d.shepherd.21 (at) hotmail (dot) com.