(CN) – Workers at Boeing’s South Carolina plant in North Charleston overwhelmingly rejected an effort to unionize the plant on Wednesday, voting 2,097 to 731 to preserve the status quo at the facility that turns out the aerospace giant’s 787 Dreamliner.
A total of 2,828 of the 3,000 workers eligible to cast votes took part in the decision which was seen as a key test for organized labor trying to unionize factory workers across the south.
The results come as the sprawling, 100,000-square-foot plant prepares to welcome President Donald Trump, who will visit the facility adjacent to Charleston International Airport on Friday to help celebrate completion of the first 787-10, the second generation of the Dreamliner line.
After the results were announced shortly before 10 p.m. Wednesday night, Mike Evans, the lead organizer for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said he was disappointed by the results.
“But more than anything, we are disheartened they will have to continue to work under a system that suppresses wages, fosters inconsistency and awards only a chosen few,” he said.
Under National Labor Relations Board rules, the union could come back and try again next year to organize the Being plant, but Evans said only it’s “the workers who dictate what happens next.”
However, given that 74 percent of those casting ballots voted “no” to the union, a vote in 2018 now seems unlikely, and several local news organizations reported Thursday that the IAM plans to close their North Charleston office.
The union has thus far not responded to those reports, but indicted last night that intends to remain in contact with union supporters at the plant and in the wider Charleston community.
Boeing, meanwhile, celebrated the outcome, issuing a statement from Boeing South Carolina Vice President and General Manager Joan Robinson-Berry that said “we will continue to move forward as one team.”
“We have a bright future ahead of us and are eager to focus on the accomplishments of this great team and to developing new opportunities,” Robinson-Berry said.
Boeing set up shop in South Carolina largely because of the state’s negligible union presence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s union membership is the lowest in the country at 1.6 percent, and that reality is something state elected and economic officials point to with pride.
“It is an economic development tool,” former Gov. Nikki Haley, now President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, said in a 2012 address of how she sold companies on coming to the state. “We’ll make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.”
Now that the union has been vanquished, preparations for Trump’s visit have taken on the air of a victory lap.
During the presidential transition, Trump blasted Boeing for the cost of building a new Air Force One.
“Costs are out of control,” Trump tweeted in early December. “Cancel order!”
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg met with Trump two weeks later.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Jeffrey Hirsch, a law professor who specializes in labor relations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said southern states for decades have recruited manufacturers by promising freedom from the influences of labor unions, which except for some textile mills have been historically rejected by workers as collective action culturally foreign to a region built around family farms.
That sentiment was echoed by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster who said on Wednesday that he didn’t feel unions were needed in the state, where Boeing and other companies have been successful, and where, he feels, workers are generally happy.
“I think we’re doing just fine without a union presence,” he said.
Neither BMW nor Michelin, two other major manufacturers in the state, are unionized.