The International Association of Machinists (IAM) has filed suit against South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley for taking sides against the union in its attempt to organize workers at a Boeing airplane plant in North Charleston. The suit contends that Gov. Haley is violating US labor laws and the Constitution by siding with Boeing.
“Gov Haley placed her hand on a bible and swore to defend the Constitution of the United States,” said IAM Southern Territory Vice-President Bob Martinez. “but her stated intention is to actively oppose workers in South Carolina who wish to exercise their legal right to join a union.”
Shortly after taking office, Haley appointed Catherine Templeton to be Director of the Department of Labor, License, and Regulation (LLR), which oversees workforce development and other labor related state functions. Templeton, who was named as a co-defendant in IAM’s suit, previously worked as a union avoidance specialist for a Charleston law firm.
At a press conference announcing Templeton’s appointment, Haley told reporters she appointed Templeton because, “We’re going to fight the unions, and I need a partner to do it.” Haley also told reporters that she expects “a big union fight” at Boeing.
Boeing has been trying to weaken the power of its workers at its unionized plants because they have successfully resisted company efforts to cut benefits and make their jobs less secure. In 2008, IAM members staged a 58-day strike against Boeing that thwarted company attempts to raise worker health care cost, take away their defined benefit pension, and outsource more work.
“This is not a case where the union caved, even in these times with the type of job market and nation pressure,” labor expert Phillip Dines told MSNBC in 2008. “This strike showed that labor can still hold its own.”
Since then, Boeing has taken steps to weaken workers’ power. In 2009, it purchasedthe former Vought aerospace manufacturing plant in North Charleston, South Carolina. Shortly after the purchase, workers at the plant voted to decertify IAM as their representative.
After the union was decertified, Boeing announced that it would add a production line at the plant to build its new 787 Dreamliner, which was already being produced at a Boeing’s unionized plant in Everett, Washington.
The company said that the new North Charleston plant would be a parallel operation to the one in Washington. Both would manufacture the 787 and both would have their own supply chain. The plant in South Carolina would continue to produce even if workers in Washington go on strike when their contract expires in 2012.
Last March, IAM District 751, which represents Boeing workers in Washington and California, filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Boeing, charging that Boeing’s decision to set up a parallel operation in South Carolina was done to retaliate against the union for going on strike in 2008.
Meanwhile, Boeing recently told its non-union employees that they would have to pay more for their health care coverage. However, the company did not impose these new cuts on workers at its South Carolina plant.
IAM District 751 President Tom Wroblewski in a letter to District 751 members, said that Boeing’s motives in exempting South Carolina workers from health care cuts is transparent.
“Obviously, the only reason that Boeing is not raising (South Carolina) workers’ health insurance costs today is because the company is afraid of this union, and how easy it would be for us to re-organize the Charleston facilities if they imposed this increase there. So be it. I’d just remind our Carolina colleagues that without a union contract, their pay and benefits are at the mercy of Chicago (Boeing’s headquarters), and subject to change whenever the company needs to spruce up its quarterly earnings report.”