Wages part of union, Boeing debate

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By Liz Segrist

lsegrist@scbizbews.com

Published April 14, 2015

Much of the debate surrounding the upcoming union election at Boeing South Carolina has centered on competitive wages for workers in North Charleston compared with their counterparts who also build 787 Dreamliners in Washington state.

Boeing workers in Washington earn an average of $31.43 per hour, for an annual base salary of $65,374, according to an email from Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for Local 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. That includes a 14 cents cost of living adjustment and a 2% wage increase as of September 2014.

That’s about $11 more an hour than is earned by Boeing production and maintenance workers in North Charleston, who make an average of $20.59 an hour, for a base salary of around $42,827 a year, according to Beverly Wyse, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

Local wages are up nearly 17% from the 2013 rate of $17.65 an hour.

Workers at both Dreamliner sites can earn more by working overtime. These base salaries do not include benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.

Boeing said it plans to give S.C. workers a 1.9% raise in the fall, bringing hourly wages to $20.99 per hour, or $43,659 a year.

To compare to average wages across South Carolina, machine assemblers make $17.48 an hour, aircraft systems assemblers make $18.66 an hour, and assemblers and fabricators make $11.86 an hour, according to 2014 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics.

IAM on wages”Basically our members’ average wage as of September 2014 was more than 50% greater than the current average wage in Charleston of $20.59,” Kelliher said. “The difference shows the value of being able to negotiate and have guaranteed wage increases in writing.”

Kelliher said workers get a 50-cents-an-hour increase every six months. When they reach six years of employment, they go to the maximum, “which is often a $10-an-hour increase,” she said.

“These are guaranteed and happen automatically. … Wages are substantially higher here especially once people have reached the six-year mark and progress to maximum pay,” Kelliher said.

Kelliher said average seniority in Washington for Boeing workers is about 13 years, which “comes into play for vacation, promotions, layoffs, etc.” Boeing South Carolina opened in 2011, meaning most workers have been employed there for only a few years.

Boeing SC on wagesWyse said that Boeing South Carolina wages have increased ever year and that they are above-market wages for the Charleston area.

“Something that’s so much a part of this conversation is: ‘How good are our wages and benefits for the area?’ … You don’t attract the best and brightest in the area if you’re not paying a really competitive, above-market wage and benefits package,” Wyse said of recruiting and retaining workers at Boeing South Carolina.

In a brochure given to Boeing South Carolina employees, Boeing uses total compensation – including overtime, shift differential, benefits, vacation days and paid sick time – to make the case that a union isn’t needed. The $43,000 base pay plus that other compensation brings the total average pay to $80,000, the brochure says.

Boeing South Carolina wages also do not factor in bonuses. Last May, factory floor workers received 8% of their base pay from the previous 12 months as a bonus for reaching production goals when catching up on a backlog of unfinished Dreamliner work.

Wyse said similar bonuses wouldn’t be possible under a union contract.

“That’s something we couldn’t do,” Wyse said. “It’s a very different environment. Quite frankly, we can’t be anywhere near as flexible on any of the wages and benefits we offer once under a contract.”

Upcoming electionIn addition to wages, other benefits, such as vacation time and overtime, have been part of the debate. Production teams worked longer hours over the past year to catch up on the backlog and added 787-9 Dreamliner production and assembly to the North Charleston plant.

Boeing execs and state leaders are digging in to prevent a unionized Boeing South Carolina plant, while the IAM is ramping up recruiting efforts.

If the union does not feel it has enough support to win after a door-to-door campaign to speak to employees, it willconsider withdrawing its petition with the National Labor Relations Board, effectively canceling the upcoming election, according to IAM lead organizer Mike Evans. The union would continue recruiting efforts for potential elections in the future.

If the election occurs, more than 3,100 production and maintenance workers at Boeing South Carolina’s 787 Dreamliner campus will decide on April 22 whether the IAM should represent them.

Reach staff writer Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119 or @lizsegrist on Twitter.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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