When I read newspapers from my home in South Carolina, rarely do I look for articles about the benefits of unions. After all, the state has one of the lowest levels of unionized workers in the country. Most employers and elected leaders actively oppose unions. This probably contributes to the low ranking of employee earnings (45th among the states) and higher than average occurrence of workplace injuries (44th).
One of the employers actively opposing unions has been Boeing. Employees at their North Charleston facility make less than their unionized colleagues in the company’s facilities in the northwest. Whenever union representation elections have occurred, strong anti-union campaigns have contributed to the union being rejected.
You can imagine my surprise when a recent article in the Charleston Post and Courier reported the results of a recent representation election, which was won by a union, could benefit all workers at the North Charleston plant.
A small unit of flight-line workers voted 104 to 65 to be represented in collective bargaining by the International Association of Machinists. As the article pointed out, “Employers typically raise wages and benefits for all workers – not just those covered by union contracts – whenever a labor union is successful in organizing part, but not all, of a business.
“Whatever the union contract provides, employers will typically extend that to non-union workers in order to avoid further unionization.” They noted when a union has a strong workplace presence, the average pay of non-union workers is 5 percent higher.
These increases also tend to spread to other area employers who must compete for workers from the same labor pool. Even though they may not be union members, they will benefit from the presence of the local at Boeing.
Do not expect workers to receive these increases anytime soon. The company has already promised to challenge the results, contending the composition of the unit is prohibited by federal law. This will undoubtedly make its way through the NLRB and into the courts before it is resolved. In the meantime, Boeing could delay the start of negotiations with the IAM until after the appeal is decided. Since initial contracts for a new unit take longer than other agreements, a long process lies ahead.
CALMC encourages both Boeing and the IAM to begin their relationship by pledging to avoid traditional labor-management behaviors. If the parties agree to work cooperatively, they will have the opportunity to build by working together, not against each other. The outcome would benefit both parties.
In a couple of weeks, we plan to explore the issue of the impact a shrinking pool of candidates is having on worker earnings. The result may not be what you think for most workers.
In the meantime, check out our first Podcast. You can listen by clicking the On-Demand tab on our website and selecting Podcasts.