Machinists withdraw request for next week's union vote at Boeing's South Carolina operations

Associated Press

The Machinists union is delaying its attempt to organize Boeing workers in South Carolina, announcing Friday that it's withdrawing a petition to hold a union vote next week because of what it called a toxic atmosphere and political interference.

Almost 3,200 production workers at Boeing facilities in North Charleston, where the aeronautics giant has a 787 assembly plant, were eligible to vote in the election that was set for April 22.

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Withdrawing its petition before the National Labor Relations Board means there cannot now be another union vote for at least six months. Boeing employs nearly 7,500 workers in South Carolina.

"We've determined now is not the right time for an election," said Mike Evans, lead organizer for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "An atmosphere of threats, harassment and unprecedented political interference has intimidated workers to the point we don't believe a free and fair election is possible."

The union said it had contacted about 1,700 workers but Evans said the home visits were suspended after two organizers were threatened at gunpoint and other workers reported hostile confrontations.

"I hold the Boeing Company, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and their surrogates responsible for creating an atmosphere of state-sanctioned hostility toward unions and union organizers," Evans said.

"The IAM's allegations are ridiculous," responded company spokeswoman Candy Eslinger. "We've taken a very transparent approach to informing our teammates and the community about what it means to be represented by the IAM. We have provided factual information backed up by data throughout this entire process."

Haley, a strong opponent of unions, had urged Boeing workers to vote against representation.

"We are proud of our loyal workforce, their unmatched work ethic and the strong, direct relationships they have with employers in our state," Haley said in a statement released by her office. "In South Carolina our workers know that we always have their back."

The AP left a message with Haley seeking comment on the union allegations.

Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager for Boeing South Carolina, issued a statement thanking workers for "their passion, spirit and determination to move forward together."

She added that "we now have the opportunity to make Boeing South Carolina and our local community an even better place to work and live."

The union, which has filed unfair labor practice complaints, said it will continue efforts to organize Boeing workers. Less than 4 percent of workers in South Carolina are members of unions.

The Machinists have had members in the Charleston area before. The union won the right to represent workers at Vought Aircraft Industries in 2007, a plant that Boeing later bought. Less than two years later, plant workers voted against union representation.

Four years ago, shortly before Boeing opened the $750 million Dreamliner plant, the NLRB filed a complaint against the company alleging the nonunion plant was in retaliation against Washington state workers who earlier went on strike.

The NLRB later dropped the complaint after Boeing agreed that the 737 Max would be built in Washington.