Boeing Workers Face “Constant Barrage of Misinformation” Ahead of Union Vote

Mario Vasquez

Anti-union sentiment runs high in South Carolina, where union membership is just 1.6 percent—the lowest in the nation. (Travis Dove/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Work­ers at Boeing’s air­craft plant in South Car­oli­na are vot­ing Wednes­day on whether to join a union, cap­ping a mul­ti-year campaign.

The road to vic­to­ry will not be easy.

Anti-union sen­ti­ment runs high in South Car­oli­na, where union mem­ber­ship is just 1.6 per­cent — the low­est in the nation. The state is also right-to-work,” which means mem­bers are not required to pay for the costs asso­ci­at­ed with representation.

The cam­paign is being run by the Inter­na­tion­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Machin­ists (IAM) and involves some 3,000 Boe­ing work­ers in North Charleston, South Car­oli­na. In 2015, IAM can­celled a vote, cit­ing an atmos­phere of threats, harass­ment and unprece­dent­ed polit­i­cal interference.”

Since a new elec­tion was sched­uled last month, Boe­ing work­ers who spoke to In These Times say that Boe­ing has been unre­lent­ing in its oppo­si­tion to the union.

It’s just a con­stant bar­rage — any oppor­tu­ni­ty they’ve had, they’ve hit us with [an] anti-union mes­sage,” says Randy Tol­er, a worker.

Boe­ing did not respond imme­di­ate­ly to a request to comment.

A nor­mal day con­sists of, you go to work, you’ll hear some­thing anti-union at your morn­ing meet­ing, there will be some [lit­er­a­ture] hand­ed out, so when you take your breaks in the break area they’ve got the TVs run­ning and they play anti-union com­mer­cials through­out the day, and you top that off when you get home. You’ve got the [anti-union] com­mer­cials, radio and TV, and then you check your mail­box and you’ve got [anti-union lit­er­a­ture] in your mail­box,” says Elliott Slater, anoth­er worker.

One promi­nent exam­ple of the company’s anti-union cam­paign was a recent break­room dis­play of $800 worth of dia­pers and children’s clothes. As Tol­er explains, They’re try­ing to say, This rep­re­sents your [annu­al] union dues. You can buy all this stuff had you not paid union dues.’ My response back to that is why don’t they show you the house that you would have been able to make a down pay­ment on because you would have got­ten high­er wages because you belong to the union?”

Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, $800 is about the dif­fer­ence in month­ly wages between union and nonunion work­ers nation­wide, accord­ing to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I would glad­ly pay my union dues to be able to make a bet­ter life,” says Toler.

Boeing’s overt anti-union cam­paign­ing is paired with whis­per cam­paigns,” which is some­thing that gets told to a small group of employ­ees, pos­si­bly from their man­ag­er or some­body, and kind of catch­es fire and becomes fac­tu­al and we have to spend a lot of time reel­ing that back to get the truth out and the facts,” says Mike Evans, lead IAM orga­niz­er. A lot of times it just comes in very light­ly and gets into the drink­ing water and caus­es the cam­paign a lot of trouble.”

These whis­per cam­paigns, along with the very pub­lic anti-union state­ments made by local and state politi­cians, are what helped tank the 2015 election.

Last time, there was a lot of dis­cus­sion that the plant would close for three months just to plan to nego­ti­ate with the IAM,” says Evans. You’re nev­er going to find that in writ­ing any­where. You’re nev­er going to see that in an e‑mail blast from the vice-pres­i­dent or man­age­ment. You’re nev­er going to see that, but it’s just some­thing that they bring out to threat­en the work­ers with.”

The anti-union activ­i­ty at Boe­ing has some work­ers wor­ried that IAM’s cur­rent effort will come down to just a few votes.

A month ago, I would have said we had a small major­i­ty of peo­ple that were going to vote in favor of the union and I was pret­ty con­fi­dent about it, but now my con­fi­dence is erod­ing,” says Tol­er. I think it’s just due to that con­stant bar­rage of mis­in­for­ma­tion that we’re get­ting hit with. It’s almost gen­er­a­tional here. The younger peo­ple are more strong­ly against it.”

I remem­ber my father being in the union and see­ing how peo­ple were paid and how the mid­dle-class fam­i­lies were bet­ter off as a result of being in unions. I remem­ber that. And the younger folks don’t have that con­nec­tion,” Tol­er says.

But Evans says that IAM has a much more robust cam­paign, as far as sup­port goes” com­pared to its pre­vi­ous effort because the sit­u­a­tion at Boe­ing has not improved since 2015.

The work­ers here are some­where around 30 per­cent to 36 per­cent, on aver­age, below their coun­ter­parts of the same tenure in Wash­ing­ton [state], but then Boe­ing keeps telling these peo­ple that they’re get­ting a fair shake,” Evans says. Their attacks on the work­ers, you know, is well, you’re get­ting paid pret­ty well for the area,’ but we’re talk­ing about an indus­try that car­ries a lot of wealth for peo­ple — mak­ing a lot of peo­ple rich.”

Mario Vasquez is a writer from south­ern Cal­i­for­nia. He is a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor to Work­ing In These Times. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @mario_vsqz or email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)/*= 0)out += unescape(l[i].replace(/^\s\s*/, &#’));while ( – j >= 0)if (el[j].getAttribute(‘data-eeEncEmail_JkRTuBCpnw’))el[j].innerHTML = out;/*]]>*/.
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