(Adds analyst, academic comments)
By Alwyn Scott and Harriet McLeod
SEATTLE/NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. Feb 15 Boeing Co
handily defeated a union drive by workers at the
company's aircraft factory in South Carolina on Wednesday, as
almost three-quarters of workers at the plant who voted rejected
The secret ballot vote, conducted by the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) at polling locations throughout the North
Charleston plant, was the first for Boeing and a high-profile
test for organized labor in the nation's most strongly
The NLRB said 74 percent of the 2,828 workers who cast
ballots voted against joining the International Association of
Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).
"We will continue to move forward as one team," Joan
Robinson-Berry, vice president in charge of Boeing South
Carolina, said in the post.
In a statement, IAM lead organizer Mike Evans said: "We're
disappointed the workers at Boeing South Carolina will not yet
have the opportunity to see all the benefits that come with
The results come just before U.S. President Donald Trump is
due to visit Boeing's South Carolina plant on Friday, as the
world's largest planemaker rolls out the first completed 787-10,
the largest version of its Dreamliner.
Any remarks Trump makes at the factory could bring into
sharper focus his views on organized labor before he chooses
appointees to fill vacant seats on the five-member NLRB.
"I think he will cheer the 'no' vote," said Harley Shaiken,
a professor at the University of California Berkeley
specializing in labor and the global economy.
"I think he's going to make the case that he wants to see
the plant succeed and do everything to create a more competitive
The loss was not seen as a surprise in a state with a
strongly anti-union culture. South Carolina is one of 28 states
that bar unions from requiring workers to join up as a condition
of employment, and has the lowest proportion of union workers,
at 1.6 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. New
York is highest with 23.6 percent.
"It's a blow, but largely to morale more than anything
practical," said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst at the
Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.
The vote preserves the status quo on the factory floor at
Boeing in South Carolina and is unlikely to alter relations with
the 30,000 IAM members at Boeing's factories near Seattle,
Boeing ran a hardball campaign against the IAM in South
Carolina, which has been trying to organize about 3,000 workers
at one of two plants where Boeing makes 787 Dreamliners. The
other, in Washington state, has long been unionized by the IAM.
The IAM canceled a vote at the Boeing plant in April 2015,
claiming political interference from state officials. Former
Governor Nikki Haley, who is now U.S. ambassador to the United
Nations, was among those who voiced strong opposition to the
union in 2015.
"Haley said South Carolina doesn't want or need unions,"
said Shaiken. "That creates an atmosphere where to vote 'yes' -
in the minds of many workers - puts them at risk."
The 26 percent of workers who supported the union showed the
IAM had established a foothold, he added. "Can they build on it?
That will be their challenge going forward."
Under NLRB rules, the union must wait a minimum of 12 months
before petitioning for another election.
Boeing said the union was not needed because it is divisive,
picks fights with management, makes promises it cannot keep and
leads workers out on costly strikes.
President of the Seattle-area IAM local, Jon Holden, said
Boeing's anti-union campaign was not a surprise and followed a
strategy they had seen before.
The Chicago-based company produced videos that aired heavily
on local TV stations and were also shown in break rooms at the
plant, mechanic Elliott Slater, 57, who supports the union, told
Reuters in an interview.
Boeing invested $750 million to build the South Carolina
factory after a costly machinists strike in 2008 that shut down
production in Washington. It spent $1 billion more to expand
aircraft engine casing and interiors production. Its employment
in the state peaked at 8,400 in 2014 and has since fallen by 10
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston and Alwyn Scott in
Seattle; Editing by Bill Rigby)