CHARLESTON, S.C. (
) -- Perhaps thinking they could lure the second
assembly line for the 787 to Charleston, workers at the company's plant in the city voted Thursday to decertify the International Association of Machinists.
The vote was 200 opposed to the union, with 68 in favor. Certification of the vote requires a seven-day waiting period to allow for potential objections.
"Boeing is gratified the hourly workers have elected to deal directly with the company on employment matters," said spokeswoman Candy Esslinger. "We're pleased that Boeing Charleston can focus on excellence and moving forward with the 787."
Still, Esslinger added there is "no connection whatsoever" between the vote and Boeing's decision on where to establish a second line for the long-delayed Dreamliner.
Once scheduled for May 2008, the first delivery of the 787 is now expected late in 2010. The delay is generally attributed to a breakdown in oversight and manufacturing capabilities after Boeing chose to establish a global supply chain for the new airplane, building parts around the world and shipping them to its Everett, Wash., plant for final assembly. Boeing employs about 27,000 IAM members in Everett.
Boeing has said it likely will operate a second assembly line -- in either Charleston or Everett -- by 2013. Despite the decertification vote, Washington-based aviation consultant Scott Hamilton said the decision on where to locate the plant remains an open question.
Decertification "doesn't hurt, but it's not that simple," Hamilton said. "Boeing is still talking to the IAM in Puget Sound to see what might be worked out about the prospect of putting line two here." Putting a new plant in Charleston would mean "you would have to hire people, and you would have all the risk factors of a new, untrained work force."
The vote "certainly puts additional pressure on (IAM Everett Local 751) to come up with some answers," he noted. At the same time, "they are the ones who are fixing the problems that erupted in Japan, Italy and Charleston."
Boeing acquired its Charleston plant from 787 contractor
in July. At the time, the plant had IAM representation after a narrow 2007 election victory, an unanticipated win in the least unionized state. But immediately after the plant was sold, the National Labor Relations Board approved a decertification vote.
The vote was sought by a worker unhappy that the union, required to sign a contract within a year after recognition, hastily approved one at a 2008 emergency meeting attended by about a dozen people. If Boeing had not acquired the plant the decertification vote would have had little significance.
"While we believe the workers at the South Carolina Boeing plant would be better served and their rights protected with union representation, ultimately, it was a decision those workers would make," said IAM spokesman Bob Wood. "We are frustrated that Boeing did not remain neutral and allow these workers to make a decision free from pressure, intimidation and coercion.
"Boeing is playing a perverse game of pitting community against community for the most taxpayer money, and pitting worker against worker for the cheapest possible labor, using these tough economic times to take advantage of both," Wood added.
-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.