About a month ago, Supply Chain Matters called reader attention to reports that the largest labor union at Boeing had filed a petition with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for a labor union organizing vote within the commercial aerospace producer’s North Charleston South Carolina production and final assembly facility. The move came after a number of workers at this facility signed authorization cards indicating interest in such an election.
At the heart of this development are differing wage compensation systems among Boeing’s production facility in Renton Washington, which is union organized, and the South Carolina facility. There has further been a long-standing contention that Boeing elected to source its second U.S. commercial final assembly facility in South Carolina because it was a right-to-work state that resisted unionization.
Boeing recently called for mandated weekend overtime for workers in South Carolina in order to maintain customer delivery requirements for the Boeing 787 aircraft.
This week, an exclusive syndicated published report by Reuters indicates that labor union officials are hinting that the vote to organize upwards of 3000 workers might be postponed.
While union organizers continue to knock on doors to solidify a case for labor union representation, Boeing has launched an all-out worker outreach campaign, including the leveraged use of both traditional and social-media outlets, to convince workers that unionization is not in their best interests. According to the report, there are overt warnings that unionization could cost workers high-paying jobs as well as benefits. Workers are reportedly being summoned to into company meetings to hear about the risks of unionization. Anti-union messages are further being amplified by local business leaders and political figures, including the Governor of South Carolina.
Like many Southern U.S. states, South Carolina is a right-to-work state implying that a labor union cannot force workers to join a union or pay union dues even if an employer is covered by a negotiated union contract. Attempts at organizing workers among multiple industries, including the high concentration automotive sector, have been met by high profile resistance from local and national elected officials.
U.S. labor laws are such that the labor union could re-schedule the organizing vote after six months. If the election was to occur and the union petition does not prevail, another organizing effort cannot occur until a year later. Thus is the current labor union hedging.
Workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga Tennessee production facility have similarly been involved with on and off union organizing votes. The difference has been tactful support by Volkswagen management. Many of Germany’s large and small manufacturing and services enterprises embrace the concept of a “Works Council”, where direct representation from labor at the highest levels of management incorporates labor’s input on policies and practices related to work conditions, employee grievances or other matters related to compensation and benefits. Certain politicians across the South are not that pleased with the concept of a foreign based manufacturer actively supporting a unionization election. After all, that remains one of the prime attractions for foreign as well as domestic based manufacturers. The Volkswagen unionization effort is a continuing back and forth effort.
Another interesting sidelight to these ongoing Boeing South Carolina developments is that competitive rival Airbus announced in 2012 that it would open its first U.S. based manufacturing facility in Mobile Alabama where the state of Alabama had offered what was reported at the time to be upwards of $100 million in incentives. This $600 million dollar facility will soon be assembling A320 aircraft in a right-to-work state as well. Thus, the stakes remain high in terms of unionization efforts.
The promise of jobs or the threats of lost jobs are very powerful forces across industry supply chains. That is indeed a certain reality. However, so are social responsibility practices that include listening to the voice and/or needs of workers. Again from our lens, whether by small work groups, Works Councils or a unionized work force, the voice of workers should be the purview of both management and labor, and without the need for threats and heavy-handed tactics by either side.