Mike Evans has worked as an organizer for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) for more than two decades. He says he’s never had an organizing experience like he’s had in Charleston, South Carolina—home of a 6,000-worker Boeing plant.
Last year, when the union tried to sponsor the city’s Cooper River Bridge Run, its check was returned.
“We got a letter saying that what we do as a union doesn’t fit with their other sponsors”—which included Boeing, says Evans.
The union then tried to sponsor the Knights of Columbus 5K race on Thanksgiving.
“They sent the check back after consulting with their board,” says Evans. “They didn’t want to give us any ability to brand ourselves as being part of the community.”
Organizers of both events declined to comment on why the union’s sponsorship was rejected.
This Wednesday, the workers at the plant will vote on whether to unionize.
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The Boeing 787 Dreamliner plant in North Charleston is the crown jewel of South Carolina’s economic rebirth. Union opponents point to a state economy that is currently growing at twice the rate of the US economy. However, that growth hasn’t meant equal opportunity for all.
South Carolina has the 11th highest poverty rate in the United States, with 16.7 percent of its residents living below the poverty line. Despite the opening of new manufacturing plants, the state’s poverty rate is actually higher than when the recession began in 2008.
One contributing factor is a lack of unions throughout the state, which depresses wages. In fact, research shows that unions increase workers’ wages and benefits, reduce inequality and poverty, and boost economic mobility across generations.
At the North Charleston plant, for example, Evans says that workers in some job classifications are paid half as much as their unionized counterparts in Washington State, and that they often have second or third jobs to help make ends meet. As a result, the IAM has been trying to organize since the plant first opened in 2011.