PORTLAND — More than 2,000 local employees of Precision Castparts Corp. are deciding whether to unionize Oregon’s only Fortune 500 company besides Nike.
Workers will vote Thursday and Friday in the companies’ Portland, Milwaukie and Clackamas plants whether to join the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers. The National Labor Relations Board will supervise the election in a secret ballot covering 12 factories
“Are we gonna do it?” a union organizer from Texas asked factory workers inside a Portland union hall last week.
“Yeah!” replied more than 30 employees.
“What time is it?” the organizer followed up.
“Union time!” the workers hollered.
Employees have complained about mandatory overtime shifts that force them to work weeks at a stretch. Precision, which makes airplane and gas turbine parts, has a $6.8 billion backlog of unfilled orders.
“Precision says, ‘We’ll take every order you can give us, and then we’ll work these guys to death to meet those commitments,”‘ Gary Smith, 62, a longtime worker said. “They got real greedy.”
Company executives have repeatedly declined comment on the election, but they oppose the bid to bring a union to Portland-area plants. The company has hired The Burke Group, a national consultant specializing in anti-union campaigns, and flown in executives from union-staffed subsidiaries — 22 percent of Precision’s 28,500 employees worldwide are organized — to describe the problems of strikes, work stoppages and concessions.
The company also launched a blog to compete with one that supports the union effort.
“Remember, unions are businesses, too, and they need revenue from union dues to survive,” said a recent company blog post. “A union can promise everything, but it can guarantee only one thing: its members will pay monthly union dues.”
In 1995 about 1,700 local Precision employees voted against joining the United Steelworkers of America. The Steelworkers challenged the close outcome, but workers rejected the union again the next year.
Precision was a much smaller company in the mid-1990s. Annual sales in fiscal 1996 totaled $557 million compared with $8.4 billion this fiscal year.