As NLRB deliberates on Boeing, union takes organizing into its own hands

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Though workers in South Carolina’s new Boeing Company plant recently booted out union bosses trying to organize them, local representatives from the International Association of Machinists (IAM) still linger around Charleston.

“Well, pretty much, they’ve been around for a few months now,” said Anthony Riedel of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Sources tell TheDC that union bosses have even showed up at the homes of Boeing’s new workers in attempts to pitch their cases for unionization.

Congressman Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, told TheDC he thinks it’s “bitterly ironic” for Charleston IAM reps to try to organize the same workers their Seattle counterparts hope will be out of a job should the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rules against Boeing in a pending union-led case.

“The same general entity, that being big labor, which is threatening the economic death penalty on the Boeing plant, which would mothball it and discharge the 1,000 employees, now wants to rush to their defense,” Gowdy said in phone interview.

“My suspicion,” Gowdy continued, “is the workers in Charleston are smart enough to see through that, and that they don’t want their union dues going to subsidize the reelection of the president who’s appointed the most activist NLRB board since the Republic was formed — and now the same board that wants to close the facility where they work.”

Gowdy said he hopes workers will “connect all those dots” and reject the formation of a new union at the Boeing plant in South Carolina. But union bosses’ preferred method of presenting their case to workers may be complicating that understanding.

Riedel said workers have been told — or they have been led to believe — that if they unionize, IAM leadership will get the NLRB to drop the controversial complaint against Boeing.

Should the NLRB drop that case, Boeing jobs at the new South Carolina plant would no longer be in jeopardy. (RELATED: House takes on NLRB)

“They [unions] want to stay relevant, they want forced dues already, and what better way to do that than to promise job security?” Riedel told TheDC. “They’re saying, ‘Hey, we know the guys out in Seattle. They’re our brothers.’ They’d broker a deal with them and save their jobs if they let them back in and let them have some of their paycheck.”

Current Boeing employee and former IAM local president Cynthia Ramaker confirmed similar details during a phone interview with TheDC. Ramaker said union bosses have been promising workers, albeit indirectly and by implication, that IAM can persuade the NLRB to drop its case against Boeing if workers agree to be unioinized.

“Those exact words haven’t been said,” she cautions. “But what I’m hearing from the workers — there have been a lot of insinuations [like]: ‘It makes us one big happy family.’ It’s a lot of double-talk and leading you to believe one thing. But the actual words, they’re not saying. But they’re all but saying that.”

Ramaker adds that a few employees have begun wearing pro-union t-shirts to work, something that South Carolinians working for Boeing had never seen before.

Ramaker was president of an IAM local in the same place she works now, back when Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc. owned the plant. Boeing has since bought Vought Aircraft’s production line there.

About two years ago, Ramaker said she and her colleagues voted out the union because it was incompetent. “When the union went to the table with Vought for our first contract, we were worse off than without the union,” she said. “We could do better on our own. We lost everything. All they kept for us was basic medical [insurance]. Period.”

What Ramaker finds ironic about this situation is that the IAM local in Seattle has never been supportive of its South Carolina counterpart, even when it was unionized.

“They did not want this program here, even when we were union,” she said. “And then, when we decertified, it was the same thing. There was no ‘We’re one big happy brotherhood.’ It comes down to [that] they just didn’t want this program here, period.”

Ramaker, along with other workers and the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, filed a counter complaint against the IAM with the NLRB this year. Riedel told TheDC the complaint alleges that the IAM is doing the same to workers that it accuses Boeing of doing to unions: retaliating.

“The reason all this is happening is because the workers removed the unions in the first place,” Riedel said. “If the union was still there, then the international union and the machinists union out in Seattle would not be spurring the NLRB to prosecute Boeing.”

It’s unclear how successful the counterclaim will be. IAM representatives could not be reached for comment.

But if union organizers are indeed suggesting to South Carolina workers that unionizing could secure their jobs and dispense with the NLRB case, the IAM could be in serious trouble. Gowdy, who worked as a federal prosecutor before entering politics, told TheDC what the IAM is allegedly doing might be illegal.

“I’ll liken it to a prosecution: A complaining witness doesn’t have the authority to dismiss a prosecution,” Gowdy said. “And now that [NLRB acting general counsel] Lafe Solomon is in for a dime, in for a dollar with his complaint, it would be highly improper if not illegal to threaten to withdraw the complaint if they unionize the South Carolina plant.”