Boeing Workers in South Carolina Vote to Join Union

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 5, 2018

A group of employees at Boeing's South Carolina plant have voted to unionize in a manner that may have implications for other employers. Flight line mechanics voted 104 to 65 Thursday to join the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union as a "micro-unit," representing only a small portion of the plant's nearly 7,000 employees. Boeing management expressed disappointment with the result, and said it will try to get the vote thrown out.

It was IAM's third attempt to unionize the North Charleston plant where Boeing builds its 787 Dreamliner aircraft. The union had attempted to organize the entire North Charleston production workforce in 2015, and again in February 2017. It finally succeeded by focusing on the small sub-unit representing the 176 mechanics, technicians and inspectors who work on the flight line.

Organizing micro-units has been suggested as a means for unions to have more success in union elections. A micro-unit seeks to organize only sections of a workforce that favor union representation rather than all of the workers at a worksite.

During a brief Republican majority in 2017, the National Labor Relations Board in December overturned an Obama-era decision that made it easier to carve out such "micro-units" of employees and reinstated the traditional community-of-interest standard for determining bargaining units. Typically, employers favor including more employees in a proposed bargaining unit during an organizing election because the union needs more votes to win.

But an NLRB regional director held that, even under the board's restored criteria for micro-units, the Boeing workers were eligible to vote to organize as a smaller group of flight-line readiness technicians and inspectors at the North Charleston plant. A three-member NLRB panel denied Boeing's last-minute petition to delay the election.

Boeing said it will appeal the union's right to represent the flight-line group, arguing that the group's work is too intertwined with that of other manufacturing employees to separate them for representation. Company spokesman Victor Scott said, "Boeing continues to believe that this type of micro-unit is prohibited by federal law."