Union applauds NLRB complaint against Boeing

SEATTLE — A complaint issued today by the National Labor Relations Board against the Boeing Co. is a victory for all American workers – particularly aerospace workers in both Puget Sound and South Carolina, officials with the Machinists Union said.

The federal complaint alleges that Boeing’s decision in 2009 to locate a 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., represented illegal retaliation against members of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers who work for the company.

As a remedy for the legal violation, the federal agency is seeking a judicial order requiring  Boeing to operate the second 787 line, including supply lines, with union Machinist workers in the Puget Sound.

Boeing “made coercive statements to its employees that it would remove or had removed work from the unit because employees had struck,” the NLRB complaint alleges. That action was “inherently destructive to the rights guaranteed employees” under federal law, it says.

The board’s action reinforces the fact that “workers have a right to join a union, and companies don’t have a right to punish them for engaging in legal union activities,” said Tom Wroblewski, the president of Machinists Union District Lodge 751 in Seattle. “Taking work away from workers because they exercise their union rights is against the law, and it’s against the law in all 50 states.”

The board’s complaint comes after a year-long investigation, and is in response to an Unfair Labor Practice charge filed in March 2010 by District 751. In it, the board cites repeated statements by Boeing spokespeople and executives that the “overriding” factor in the decision to open the Charleston plant was the company’s problems reaching contracts with the Machinists Union representing workers in Puget Sound.

“By opening the line in Charleston, Boeing tried to intimidate our members with the idea that the company would take away their work unless they made concessions at the bargaining table,” Wroblewski said. “But the law is clear: American workers have a right to pursue collective bargaining, and no company – not even Boeing – can threaten or punish them for exercising those rights.”

The decision to open in Charleston also came after it was made clear to workers there that the only way they could ensure their future work on the 787 would be if they left the Machinists Union, forcing them to sacrifice their collective bargaining rights to have a chance at more jobs.

Fortunately for them, “the same federal rights that apply to the rest of America also apply in South Carolina,” Wroblewski said. “Should they ever decide to form a union again, the Charleston workers could do it knowing that Boeing couldn’t retaliate against them for seeking better pay, benefits and working conditions.”

“Had we allowed Boeing to break the law and go unchecked in their actions, it would have given the green light for corporate America to discriminate against union members and would have become management’s new strategic template to attack employees,” Wroblewski added.

The dispute has its roots in recent Machinists Union strikes that were triggered by Boeing proposals to gut health care and pension benefits for workers, and to erode job security by giving work historically done inside the factories by Machinists to non-union contractors.

The strikes prompted Boeing officials to retaliate by moving 787 final assembly and supply chain work to Charleston, according to the NLRB complaint.

The statements by Boeing, linking future expansion in Charleston to future union activity in Puget Sound, have not slowed down. As recently as last week, a Boeing spokeswoman told The Seattle Times of Boeing’s intention to make the Charleston facility independent of Puget Sound because of the risk of strikes here.

Wroblewski said that even after filing the Unfair Labor Practice charge, the union has been open to talking with Boeing about a long-term solution to its Puget Sound labor issues.

“The ruling is an opportunity for Boeing to move beyond a failed strategy of confrontation and to work more closely with its employees and their representatives and the communities that have stood by them for years,” Wroblewski said. “Moving forward, we would hope Boeing would partner with us to build on the success we achieved working together on the Air Force tanker, rather than battling to try to intimidate workers who account for less than 5 percent of their product cost.”

Before Boeing announced its Charleston decision, the Machinists had offered the company an unprecedented 11-year agreement that would have given the company the “labor peace,” it claimed it needed to be successful.

Since the Charleston announcement, Boeing hasn’t been willing to have any serious conversations about its future in Puget Sound, Wroblewski said.

“I’m ready to have that conversation,” he said. “We need to sit down and talk about our shared future, and what both sides need to be successful long-term. That kind of conversation is what’s in the best interest of our company, our members and our communities.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents nearly 27,000 working men and women at 44 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2010, District 751 members ratified new contracts with 22 of those employers, without a single workday lost to strikes.

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3 Responses to “Union applauds NLRB complaint against Boeing”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] newsletter includes a number of articles about the NLRB’s move on April 20 to file a complaint against Boeing, accusing the company ofrepeatedly violating the rights of District 751 members under […]

  2. […] On April 24, The Seattle Times editorialized against the NLRB action ["Feds shouldn't reverse Boeing's S.C. decision"] claiming both the union and the company are grown-ups and both know their rights. According to The Times, the union has a right to strike and the company has the right to build production facilities anywhere it wants within the confines of the law. Both sides do have rights, but only one side, Boeing, violated the law. […]

  3. […] much of their time in Paris answering media questions about the National Labor Relations Board battle between Boeing and the Machinists, which was then […]

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