The Boeing vote against unionization


I used to work for a publisher who had come up through the newsroom, and he used to say that if a company’s employees vote to unionize, that’s the CEO’s fault: He had failed to run the company so that employees didn’t feel the need for a union.

If his rule holds, apparently Boeing is doing something right:

Production workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant voted Wednesday not to join the Machinists, maintaining southern reluctance toward unionization.

Vote totals weren’t immediately available. Under NLRB rules, workers must wait a year before another union vote.

In a statement, Machinists organizer Mike Evans said the union was disappointed with the vote but vowed to stay in close touch with Boeing workers to figure out next steps.

“Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next,” Evans said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to talk with hundreds of Boeing workers over the past few years. Nearly every one of them, whether they support the union or not, have improvements they want to see at Boeing. Frankly, they deserve better.”…

Since you have the union’s response, I’ll also give you this one from Lindsey Graham:

“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.”

As for what I think, well, I’m not a big union guy. I tend to think like Reid Ashe, my old publisher: It’s up to the employees, and I see no point in a union getting between employer and employed if they have a good, healthy relationship. (In other words, Bryan, if it’s a “happy ship.”)

Of course, as you know, I’m philosophically opposed to public employee unions. But in the private sector, it all depends…

16 thoughts on “The Boeing vote against unionization

  1. Norm Ivey

    Unions have done much good in this country, even for folks not in the unions. Employment-based health insurance is, to my mind, the biggest benefit many have gained, but one which I’d gladly trade for single-payer. The 40-hour work week is another biggie.

    I once worked for John Harland check printers in West Columbia (long since closed the Columbia plant), and they were a company which did not need a union. I had health insurance, a retirement/profit sharing plan, and they paid for virtually my entire education even though I was pursuing a degree which would not benefit them directly. (As long as I worked full time, they paid my entire tuition bill every semester. Books and beer were my responsibility.) With a company like that, who needs a union? Unfortunately, not all companies are that broad-minded.

    I appreciate, but do not agree with, your views on public employee unions. If teachers could unionize in South Carolina, I believe the Corridor of Shames schools would have long ago been addressed. Teacher unions are not only about enrichment of their members. With the looming shortage of teachers in SC, I believe that the state is going to wish they had done more to make the profession more attractive to young people. A union could do much to make the profession more desirable.

    1. Harry Harris

      Teachers can unionize in SC, but can’t collectively bargain. No unionization can or could correct the economic and societal issues that impact the “corridor of shame.” No amount of money can wipe them out. Better leadership and aggressive funding can help a lot, but the instability of leadership has killed the progress in some, and the old power structure (socio-economic and racial) has crippled others. We’ve never made more than a lip-service commitment driven by the latest winds of conventional-wisdom. Three year plans don’t erase a 130 plus years problem. Jim Crow still flies.

      1. Norm Ivey

        More semantic than substantial, but a “union” that can’t collectively bargain is just a club that might offer some liability insurance. They call them professional associations.

        You’re correct in your observations about the Corridor of Shame. But if there had been a union fighting those conditions for the last 60 years, there would have been some improvement.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, let’s dig into that.

          There HAVE been improvements over the last 60 years. But not in the latter decades of that period.

          Two reasons — much of the white bourgeoisie pulled their social, financial and political support from the schools, especially in small towns across the state, once actual integration was implemented in 1970. The people with the pull and resources in those communities ceased to think in terms of “these are OUR schools; let’s make them as good as we can.”

          For awhile, you still had state political leadership committed to improving the newly integrated schools. But in the 90s that almost evaporated, and it got worse in the 2000s. And it hasn’t gotten better from that point.

          Which brings me to this question: To what extent do you think the folks in charge for the last decade or two would CARE what a teacher’s union — if we had a teacher’s union — thought should be done to improve schools?

          The very fact that the ideas CAME FROM a teacher’s union would mean they didn’t have a chance…

          1. Norm Ivey

            To what extent do you think the folks in charge for the last decade or two would CARE what a teacher’s union — if we had a teacher’s union — thought should be done to improve schools?

            Now I’m just depressed.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      Let me raise a couple of points with regard to this:

      Unions have done much good in this country, even for folks not in the unions. Employment-based health insurance is, to my mind, the biggest benefit many have gained, but one which I’d gladly trade for single-payer. The 40-hour work week is another biggie.

      First point: If unions gave us employment-based health insurance, then that’s a reason to be down on them right there, for the reason you allude to. If we hadn’t had that, we would have had single-payer long ago. We’d have gotten it during the big postwar expansion, when new programs were relatively easy to pass.

      Second point: Are you sure we got that because of unions? I had been under the impression that during the war, labor was so scarce that employers started offering the benefits to give them a competitive advantage.

      But I suppose both could be true. CEO at Company A institutes benefits as a competitive advantage, and the unionized employees at Company B next door say they want benefits too, or they’re going to walk. Then the executives at Company C realize they’re going to lose all their workers to A and B if they don’t pony up, etc….

      1. Norm Ivey

        During WWII wages were frozen, but fringe benefits were not. Companies began offering insurance to attract and retain quality employees. Shortly after the war, there was a SCOTUS ruling which held that fringe benefits could be part of the collective bargaining process, making insurance a feature that unions demanded. And yes, that put pressure on union and non-union shops to offer insurance.

  2. Harry Harris

    It’s interesting to observe the union/non-union debates and discussions that go on. Most of us would acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all. I’ve worked part-time in situations where unionization was probably needed, but opposed by management kin some illegal ways, but is hard to police without good enforcement available and vulnerable employees. I’ve seen some union contract rules that violate any good business or common sense.
    It’s interesting to note that 60 plus years of industrial and organizational psychology studies strongly support the biggest factor in productivity (and company health) as being the morale of the workforce. That stretches from the Hawthorne studies in the late 40’s to the “Contented Cows” research in the late 90’s. It’s true in sales, manufacturing, and schools. What does management do so often? Kill morale with top-down policies (while enriching their own compensation) and blame everything else when results are bad.
    Those of you posters who have pointed-out good working situations in your careers seem to indicate that when you know you are valued you produce value and exhibit loyalty. Would that our money and power-obsessed culture understood better the value in having workers getting meaning from their work, looking forward to showing up, and sharing in its returns. Sometimes a union can help. Too often it becomes so adversarial and self-focused that it can be oppressive itself. Let the solution fit the need.
    In SC, plants like Boeing that offer premium wages for their neighborhood will never likely unionize unless they just get stupid in handling employees. Folks around here will put up with a lot in order to have a high paying job in a depressed-wage area. Where else can they go?

    1. Richard

      I worked a conference in New York where I couldn’t plug in an extension cord because I wasn’t a union electrician. I had to wait for nearly 3 hours for a guy likely being paid $40-$50/hr. to plug it in for me.

      1. Bart

        Two similar anecdotes. When I was working a trade show, we had to wait for a union electrician to do the same as you noted and we couldn’t unload our booth material or set it up either. All union labor and no exceptions to the rule.

        My sister married an engineer with a company in Toledo. She went to the plant to visit him and as she was walking through one area, an empty cardboard box fell and she picked it up and put it back where it fell from. She was reported and a special meeting was called by the union to complain to management about her picking the box up because she was taking work away from a member of the union. She was banned from going through the area again by the union and management acquiesced to the ban. The irony is that her father-in-law was the plant manager. This was typical union behavior in the plant. It is closed now.

        Unions become necessary when owners and management do not take care of the employees by providing decent benefits and some job security/stability. I know of a couple of companies that should be unionized because of the way the employees are treated by the owners. The employees of one particular company never know from one day to the next if they will be fired or not if they make a wrong remark of if the president of the company decides she doesn’t like them on that particular day. She has humiliated employees on so many levels, it is difficult to describe.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        Funny story about when I first came to work at The State.

        Every paper I’d ever worked at before I came here — in Tennessee and Kansas — was union in the back shop. That meant when we editors went into the composing room to check off on pages before letting them go to the camera room and press, we had to be extremely careful not to touch the cold-type pages on the counters, or at least not to move them.

        We could draw and write on them with these special light-blue felt tip pens, indicating where the compositors could use their Xacto knives to cut the copy to fit. (They couldn’t make the editing decisions because they weren’t editors, and we couldn’t make the physical cuts because we weren’t in the union, so it took two of us to trim a story.)

        But as we peered closely at the type on the page, leaning in, we generally clasped out hands behind our backs, lest we forget ourselves and grab the page — to scoot it over to a better place to see it or something. I never saw it happen in those 13 years, but we were always told if we grabbed a page, there would be an immediate work stoppage.

        Then I came to work at The State. In my first job here, I had few occasions to visit composing, but once I did, and I saw another editor — it was Dawn Kujawa, who still works there — looking at a page in a crowded area. Suddenly, she seized the page with both hands, picked it up and carried it across the room to where she’d have more room to work.

        It was as though I’d seen her walk casually off a cliff and then fly, I was so shocked. I was STUNNED that the roof of the building didn’t collapse on us. Then I remembered — The State was entirely non-union…

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          By the way, those compositors had reason to worry about their jobs. Those jobs were all lost when we started pagination (meaning no one had to take strips of type, roll hot wax on the back, cut it and stick it on the page — we did it all in a computer and the entire page would come out of the typesetter at once) in the mid-90s…

      3. Norm Ivey

        I think the oddest rule I ever heard of to protect union jobs was during the transition from steam locomotives to the diesel electric hybrids that pull trains today, the diesel electrics had to have a fireman (stoker) on every train. The fireman’s job was to shovel coal.

  3. Harry Harris

    I’ve known personally individuals who had union jobs and retired or were laid off later. Some remain loyal union people; others complain about the overpaid and protected union workers – after they already got theirs. One was an airline pilot (2nd officer) who bragged about his super-high pay (150K+) and short duty hours in the 1970s/early 80’s. Airline was raided and shut down. He later complained often about the overpaid, underworked, and sometimes crybaby pilots. Depends on your perspective.

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