COLUMBIA — Boeing workers’ anti-union vote at the aviation giant’s 787 Dreamliner plant in South Carolina is a big victory for Southern politicians and business leaders who have lured manufacturing jobs to the region on the promise of keeping unions out.
It’s also a win for the company that will host President Trump at its North Charleston facilities today. Nearly 3,000 workers were eligible to vote Wednesday on representation by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers. According to Boeing, nearly 74 percent of the more than 2,800 votes cast were against representation.
It was a massive win for union opponents, in line with longstanding Southern aversion to collective bargaining. At 1.6 percent, South Carolina maintains the lowest percentage of unionized workers in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Its neighboring states, North Carolina and Georgia, hover slightly higher but still in low territory, at 3.0 and 3.9 percent, respectively.
Other largescale Southern unionization efforts haven’t met recent success. In 2014, Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga, Tenn., turned down representation by the United Autoworkers. For years, organizers have campaigned for representation among Nissan workers in Canton, Miss., but no vote has been scheduled.
Boeing came to South Carolina in part because of the state’s minuscule union presence.
“I think a failed vote isn’t that big of a deal because that’s frankly the norm in the South,” said Jeffrey Hirsch, law professor who specializes in labor relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “The culture here, at least in recent memory, has not been pro-union.”
Had the results at Boeing been reversed, Hirsch says, the ripple effect could have been dramatic. Politicians such as former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley – who, directly and via her labor secretary Catherine Templeton, adamantly spoke against the need for unions here – would be forced to rethink business recruitment strategies, and corporations also might think more carefully about locating in South Carolina.