A Boeing 777 reaches the end of a production line at the company's facility in Everett, Washington. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A Boeing 777 reaches the end of a production line at the company's facility in Everett, Washington. Picture: BLOOMBERG

Chicago/Washington — Boeing employees in South Carolina voted overwhelmingly against unionisation, dealing a blow to the labour movement’s efforts to expand its ranks under President Donald Trump.

The vote is a loss for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers but not a surprise in a right-to-work state traditionally hostile to collective bargaining.

It comes two days ahead of the factory launch of the largest 787 Dreamliner, Boeing’s marquee carbon-fibre jet, an event Trump is expected to attend.

The labour defeat is the latest in a long-running struggle between Boeing’s management and the Machinists’ union, with the South Carolina plant a crucial battleground.

An earlier attempt to organise workers in the state fizzled before a vote in 2015 amid anti-union campaigning and political pressure led by then governor Nikki Haley, who is now Trump’s ambassador to the UN.

Boeing decided to place a new final assembly line for its Dreamliners in the southern state to avoid strikes that had brought work to a halt in its traditional Puget Sound manufacturing base in 2008. The aircraft maker based in Chicago plans to build the 787-10 only at the factory and has room on its campus adjacent to Charleston’s airport to handle more production.

The union drive failed with 74% of voters against it, according to a National Labour Relations Board statement

The union drive failed with 74% of voters against it, according to a National Labour Relations Board statement.

The vote was the latest reverse for the already shrinking US labour movement, which faced a state house vote on Thursday on making New Hampshire the first right-to-work state in the northeast, a measure that would ban mandatory union fees.

In South Carolina, right-to-work laws have helped drive union membership down to 1.6% of the workforce.

Next Steps 

Reached late on Wednesday, American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organisations president Erin McKee said what happens next at Boeing would depend on what workers chose to do.

Labour organisers would remain in close contact with supporters as they determined their next steps. "Ultimately it will be the workers who dictate what happens next," said Mike Evans, unionisation campaign lead organiser.

Bloomberg

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