June 21, 2011

Union Mouthpiece Trashes Non-Union Workers In Boeing Dispute

Workers in right-to-work states -- especially in the South -- are stupid and unskilled, he claims.

We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force. This country is in a debt crisis because we buy abroad much more than we sell. Alas, because of this trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That's not because of our labor costs—in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It's because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.

Got that, folks? Those non-union workers in South Carolina (and, by implication, the rest of the right to work states in the South) are just too stupid and unskilled to be permitted to work in the aerospace industry (forgetting, of course, that the bulk of the nation's space program is headquartered in some of those same states -- Florida, Texas, and Alabama).

Unfortunately, Geoghegan ignores the actual history of Boeing in South Carolina, and why its workforce in that state is nonunion. It isn't because of anything that Boeing did; rather, it is because in the fall of 2009 the Boeing's South Carolina workers voted to decertify the very union that filed the complaint against Boeing because of the union's failure to place the interests of the workers ahead of the interests of the union itself.

In 2007, after having been narrowly voted in to represent the employees of Vought Aircraft in North Charleston, SC, the Machinists’ union (IAM) was still in the midst of negotiating its first contract when the union struck Boeing for two months in Puget Sound in 2008. Since Vought was one of Boeing’s suppliers, the union’s Washington strike forced Vought to temporarily close the South Carolina plant and lay off the employees.

After nearly a year of negotiations, as the one year anniversary approached, there were reportedly rumors that there was a decertification effort under way. However, either sensing that it may be decertified or realizing its potential membership base was going to be significantly cut back, the union engineered a contract to lock employees in even before the company had presented its final offer:

Some employees have expressed concern that they didn’t know a vote was being taken and that only a small fraction of those in the collective bargaining unit might have participated. Those concerns came up at a meeting last night at the union hall, according to a worker who was there.

Dallas-based Vought was also taken by surprise that its workers voted to ratify an agreement with the Machinists union, the company said in a statement released Thursday.

Vought spokeswoman Lynne Warne said Vought was not privy to information about the number of workers who participated in the vote.

Despite the fact that additional bargaining sessions were scheduled and final proposals had not been exchanged, Vought officials were advised by the IAM (Machinists union) that union members had ratified Vought’s proposals at an emergency meeting called by the union on Nov. 7,” the company said.

Touting that an “overwhelming” 92% of the members voted to accept the contract, it soon became apparent that the 92% the union claimed was really12 out of 13 people who actually showed up at the union’s meeting and voted (out of nearly 200 affected). What was worse than the back-door deal the Machinists rammed through was the fact that it was also a bad deal, according to employees:

We got screwed,” said newly laid-off assembly mechanic Jay Fleckenstein on Thursday night as he worked his second job delivering pizza.


And mechanic Pam DeGarmo said the 1.5 percent annual wage hike won’t even cover the union dues and inflation.

It’s a horrible contract,” said DeGarmo. “I didn’t gain anything. It’s going to cost me money.

Several months later, in July 2009, Boeing announced it was buying the South Carolina facility from Vought. By the end of July, with the facility purchased, the employees in South Carolina filed to decertify the union.

So the South Carolina Boeing workers are not some uneducated rubes who were brought in to do a job for which they were not qualified. They are highly-skilled, well-qualified workers who had worked for years for a Boeing supplier before Boeing bought that supplier in 2009. Not only that, they had been unionized -- and learned first-hand about the "benefits" of membership in the Machinists union when the union engineered a sweetheart deal with their employer that economically harmed the employees while appearing to secure the position of the union. Much to the dismay of the bosses, that strategy failed when the workers rebelled and decertified it as their representative.

And this is where the arguments of the union thugs and their hired mouthpieces like Mr. Geoghegan become dishonest to the point of being Machiavellian. Boeing did not MOVE a single job to South Carolina. Indeed, every worker in Washington state that had a job building Dreamliners prior to the decision to open the South Carolina plant still has a job at the Seattle assembly facility. What happened is that Boeing made a decision not to EXPAND in Seattle, instead choosing the EXPAND in Charleston, where it already had facilities and employees, and where some of the parts for the Dreamliner were already being made. And to be honest, that description is not really accurate, either -- after all, Boeing did expand its workforce in Seattle by 2000 workers at the same time it opened the Charleston plant. So how, exactly, have union workers in Seattle been punished for exercising their right to strike?

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear that the goal of the Machinists union is to use the NLRB to punish the Charleston workers for exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act to decertify the union in 2009, as the union's campaign to bring back the union in Charleston apparently includes a promise to withdraw the complaint against Boeing if the workers again submit to the yoke of union tyranny by undoing their decertification vote. All they have to do is again accept as a bargaining agent a union which has shown itself to put the best interests of the workers second to the best interests of the union leadership.

Which means, of course, that these workers who Thomas Geoghagen describes as low-skilled, low-qualified and poorly-educated will suddenly be the very sort of high-quality, highly-skilled, well-educated workers that he argues that unions guarantee. Perhaps he can offer an explanation of how it is that a union card -- or the lack of one -- can transform one sort of worker into another in the blink of an eye. Or perhaps he will, in a moment of uncharacteristic honesty and candor, admit that union membership doesn't make a bit of difference other than to the employment security of union bosses and hired guns like Geoghagen himself.

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