Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

NLRB Issues Complaint Over Boeing’s Move to S.C.

April 26th, 2011 | James Parks

Image: James ParksA complaint issued on April 20th by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) 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 (IAM) said.

NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon issued the complaint, which alleges that Boeing’s decision in 2009 to locate a Dreamliner 787 final assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., represented illegal retaliation against IAM members who work for the company. The NLRB is seeking a court order requiring Boeing to operate the second 787 line, including supply lines, with union workers in the Puget Sound

“Boeing’s decision to build a 787 assembly line in South Carolina sent a message that Boeing workers would suffer financial harm for exercising their collective bargaining rights,” said IAM Vice President Rich Michalski.

Federal labor law is clear: It’s illegal to threaten or penalize workers who engage in concerted activity.

The decision by Boeing to locate the assembly line in South Carolina followed years of 787 production delays and an extraordinary round of mid-contract talks in which the IAM proposed an 11-year agreement to provide Boeing with the labor stability it claimed was necessary to keep 787 production in the Puget Sound area.

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, president of Machinists District Lodge 751 in Seattle, which represents Boeing workers.

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 in response to an unfair labor practice charge filed in March 2010 by District 751. Wroblewski added:

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.

“A worker’s right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act,” the NLRB’s Solomon said.

We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law.

About the Author: James Parks’ first encounter with unions was at Gannett’s newspaper in Cincinnati when his colleagues in the newsroom tried to organize a unit of The Newspaper Guild. He saw firsthand how companies pull out all the stops to prevent workers from forming a union. He is a journalist by trade, and has worked for newspapers in five different states before joining the AFL-CIO staff in 1990. He also has been a seminary student, drug counselor, community organizer, event planner, adjunct college professor and county bureaucrat. His proudest career moment, though, was when he served, along with other union members and staff, as an official observer for South Africa’s first multiracial elections.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on April 20, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

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