Boeing workers prepare for election following 'Vote Yes' rally

Union "yes" pin at rally (Source: Live 5)
Union "yes" pin at rally (Source: Live 5)

NORTH CHARLESTON, SC (AP/WCSC) - Two days before South Carolina Boeing employees vote on whether to join a union, workers and union members held a rally in support of collective bargaining rights.

More than 100 Boeing workers and members with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) gathered Monday afternoon at the Crowne Plaza Charleston Airport Hotel in North Charleston.

Several speakers including Mike Evans, IAM Boeing South Carolina lead organizer, spoke about dignity and respect for workers at the aerospace company.

The rally took place roughly a mile from Boeing's North Charleston campus, where nearly 3,000 eligible workers will vote Wednesday on whether they want to be represented by the Machinists.

"[It's about] demanding what you deserve from the bosses," said Father Greg Blevins, a priest from Knoxville, TN who has been a long-time union supporter. "Better pay, better working conditions, equality, respect and consistency for everyone."

Beginning at 5 a.m. workers will check yes or no on a secret ballot provided by the National Labor Relations Board at 10 different locations on the campus.

Polling times range from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., according to the Boeing SC website.

"Things are getting [to the point] where it's demoralizing," said Duane Leighton, an 18-year employee with Boeing. "It's often confusing. We don't know what we're doing from day to day, or how we're supposed to do it."

Leighton transferred from the plant in Seattle where he was a union member with the IAM.

"We'll be able to have consistent work hours," he said. "We'll be able to have dignity and security in the work place. You'll be able to have good benefits and support the community."

"When people are treated better they wind up going to the doctor less," said Democratic Representative David Mack. "There's less stress, less medical costs, better for the economy."

According to Boeing SC's website, employees who work as aircraft machinists, aircraft painters, assemblers, equipment maintenance specialists and several other positions are eligible to vote.

If a union were to form, workers would be able to negotiate through union representatives with Boeing officials on a number of things including wages, insurance, schedules, and overtime pay.

Boeing is urging employees to vote no Wednesday to protect what was built in South Carolina.

They claim union dues are expensive, and the IAM doesn't have the worker's best interest at heart.

"You're doing God's work when you fight for your rights," Blevins countered.

"I have a gut feeling most people are going to vote yes," Leighton said.

51-percent is needed for a union to become established.

According to the IAM, even though South Carolina is a Right to Work state, that only means that employees cannot be required to pay dues as a condition of employment. Any contract agreed to by the union would still apply to every single Production & Maintenance teammate, regardless of whether or not they voted. Also, only dues paying members get a vote on the contract or a strike.

IAM SC organizers said they could learn the results of the election 2-3 hours after the polls close.

Messages for a statement from Boeing SC about Monday's rally was not immediately returned.

The global aviation company came to South Carolina in part because the state has a minuscule presence and state politicians and business leaders have for decades preached that unions hurt the workforce, not help it.

Copyright 2017 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.