It only covers about 178 workers, but it's still a union foothold: Flight-readiness technicians and inspectors at Boeing's factory in North Charleston, S.C., voted to unionize on Thursday, more than a year after a broader union vote failed at the plant that makes Boeing 787 airliners.
The workers will be represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union, despite intense resistance from Boeing.
The company accused the union of using gerrymandering to form a "micro-unit" at the facility it built in South Carolina — a "right to work state" — after running into difficulty dealing with the Machinists' union (including a strike) in Washington state 10 years ago.
Thursday's vote was first requested in early March. It went ahead after Boeing asked the National Labor Relations Board for a stay, or to impound all the ballots.
Boeing said the flight line workers were artificially selected to form a unionized group, after the IAM union failed to win last year's vote among roughly 3,000 Boeing employees.
But organizers responded that the workers have wages, hours, apparel, supervisors and other conditions of employment that differ from those of other Boeing employees. They called Boeing's motion for a stay "hyperbolic, if not hysterical."
The NLRB sided with the organizers, backing the original decision by the regional director without comment.
As Charleston's Post and Courier reports, "While the number is small compared to Boeing's workforce of 6,749 in the Charleston region, the vote is seen as a major victory for organized labor in South Carolina, which has the nation's smallest number — 2.6 percent — of workers who belong to a union."