First Analysis: Boeing’s Resounding "No" to Unionize, Implications for South Carolina

Mollee D. Harper

Friday, February 17th, 2017

We sat down with Joseph A. Seiner, labor law expert and Employment Law Professor at University of South Carolina School of Law to discuss yesterday’s landslide vote not to unionize by workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant. An estimated 74% of hourly production workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant voted not to unionize yesterday after a long courtship by IAM trade union. Seiner provides his insights on yesterday’s vote, and what this means for unions in the least unionized state in the country. 

Seiner shared, “I think what really surprised everyone was that the vote was dramatically against the union. It was a massive turnout of almost 2,800 -3,000 people who showed up to vote. It was a resounding ‘No’ by 75%.”

Seiner continued, “There were a lot of talks about cut backs and terminations that might happen at the Boeing plant prior. In that type of environment, unions often do well. Combined with all of the political changes, it happened very quickly in the last three weeks. Quick time tables typically favor unions. A lot of people thought they had a shot.”

Boeing South Carolina is located in North Charleston on the southern portions of the joint-use Charleston Air Force Base and Charleston International Airport. This 265-acre site is an assembly site for Boeing’s Commercial Airplanes division and the major manufacturing, assembly and delivery site for Boeing commercial aircraft in the eastern U.S. It is one of the largest employment centers in the state of South Carolina.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is an AFL-CIO/CLC trade union representing over a half million workers in more than 200 industries throughout the United States and Canada. The IAM represents an estimated 35,000 workers at 24 Boeing locations around the country.

Seiner added, “Under the law, the union can come back in a year. I’m not sure they will want to do that based on the overwhelming no they received. There would have to be something appealing to make them want to come back to the state to try to turn that around. But, under the law, they can vote again to unionize after a year.”

“Had it gone the other way, BMW and Michelin and others might get nervous. But right now, there is a 1.6% union rate in SC. South Carolina is the least unionized state in the U.S. It’s pretty clear unions aren’t going to want to spend a lot of time and money to try to influence workers here. It’s also a right to work state which also makes it a lot less appealing for unions to come here.”

He concluded, “Unions are a good thing. If you look at them historically, they have really helped workers with health issues and support good wages. Unions can go the other way and can become corrupt or have too much power. It’s hard to find that right balance. At the end of the day, workers want a good wage and they want to work in a safe environment. Clearly, here workers don’t think that a union will help them and may do more harm than good.”

Joseph A. Seiner serves as Professor of Law for the University of South Carolina School of Law and teaches courses in labor and employment law. He received his B.B.A. with High Distinction from the University of Michigan. And his J.D., Magna Cum Laude, Order of the Coif, from the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham made this statement on the Boeing workforce’s vote on unionization.

“Boeing’s South Carolina workforce is second to none. As South Carolinians, these employees make us proud each day with every 787 Dreamliner that rolls off the assembly line. They have earned every accolade that comes their way.

“I was pleased to hear the results of yesterday’s election. The employees’ decision will keep in place a business model that attracted Boeing to South Carolina in the first place. Their vote is a strong signal to other businesses that South Carolina is a great place to call home.

“Boeing is a valued community leader, an admirable employer, and a staple of the South Carolina business community. We are proud they decided to call South Carolina home years ago and I continue to look forward to a beneficial relationship for the employees, community, and company in the years to come.”

“We will continue to move forward as one team,” said Joan Robinson-Berry, vice president and general manager of BSC. “We have a bright future ahead of us and we're eager to focus on the accomplishments of this great team and to developing new opportunities.

“Friday we will mark the most recent incredible accomplishment in the proud history of the BSC team with the rollout of the first 787-10,” said Robinson-Berry. “It is great to have this vote behind us as we come together to celebrate that event.”