Bloomberg Law
Oct. 18, 2018, 3:30 PM

Boeing Spies on South Carolina Employees, Union Says

Andrew Wallender
Andrew Wallender

Supervisors at Boeing Co.'s South Carolina plant are singling out employees who support a union and subjecting them to additional surveillance, the International Association of Machinists alleges.

The Machinists union filed the charges in a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board Oct. 11. It’s part of an ongoing dispute between the company and union over the legitimacy of a May 2018 representation vote that the union won. Boeing is appealing the election to the NLRB.

Boeing said it would comply fully with the NLRB review of the charges. However, the recent charge is “one in a series of baseless allegations raised by the union—all of which are entirely meritless,” Boeing spokeswoman Libba Holland wrote in a statement to Bloomberg Law. “These claims arise out of the IAM’s frustration over the Company’s appeal.”

Additional Surveillance

Boeing employees in work groups that support a union are being singled out and subjected to additional surveillance measures, according to Machinists Union lawyer Bill Haller.

“That’s the basis of the charge,” Haller said. “It’s the way they’re treating these separate groups separately.”

Affected employees must log their work at particular stations in the presence of supervisors despite previously being allowed to conduct work at any available work station, the lawyer said.

Additional security cameras also have been installed since the union election and new radio frequency identification technology has been introduced to certain tools that the union says is tracking employee movements.

“There doesn’t seem to be any reason to do that other than to either surveil or harass that particular group of employees based on their presumed union support,” Haller told Bloomberg Law.

The surveillance charge is just one of 10 unfair labor practice complaints the union has filed against the company since the May election. The most recent, filed Oct. 17, alleges unfair retaliation and firing of an employee for supporting the union.

A Question of Legitimacy

The Machinists union won the May representation election on a 105-64 vote, but Boeing filed an appeal arguing that the unit was “gerrymandered” and too small to be a legal bargaining unit.

The Machinists lost an earlier election in 2017 seeking to unionize the entire plant at North Charleston, S.C., where Boeing manufactures its 787 Dreamliner. After that election, it focused organizing efforts on a smaller unit of flight line technicians.

The union has attempted to engage Boeing in talks following the May election and says that any unilateral changes the company makes without consulting the union are illegal.

Boeing refutes claims that changes it makes are illegal and said that bargaining with the union would jeopardize the status of its appeal.

“The union also alleges that Boeing cannot make decisions in the ordinary course of operations without bargaining with the union—which is equally baseless,” Holland said. “The IAM and its lawyers know full well that bargaining with them could jeopardize the Company’s legal right to appeal.”

Review Ongoing

The NLRB is reviewing Boeing’s appeal and hasn’t ruled on any of the union’s 10 unfair labor practice complaints against the company.

If Boeing loses its appeal with the NLRB, the Machinists union expects the company will file a challenge with an appeals court, Haller said.

The IAM represents about 35,000 Boeing workers at other facilities across the country.

The fight over the legitimacy of the South Carolina union is attracting attention from state officials, business leaders, and political representatives in Washington and beyond.

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Wallender in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at and Terence Hyland at