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Thursday, May 19, 2011

NLRB Puts Boeing Dreamliner in Holding Pattern

By: Tommy Eden, Attorney

On March 26, 2010, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that the Boeing Company had engaged in multiple unfair labor practices related to its decision to place a second production line for the 787 Dreamliner airplane in a non-union facility in South Carolina.

Specifically, the union charged that the decision to transfer the line was made to retaliate against union employees for participating in past strikes and to chill future strike activity. The Machinists’ union has represented Boeing Company employees in the Puget Sound area of Washington, where the planes are assembled, since 1936.

The NLRB investigation found that Boeing officials communicated the unlawful motivation in multiple statements to employees and the media. For example, a senior Boeing official said in a videotaped interview with the Seattle Times newspaper: "The overriding factor in transferring the line was not the business climate. And it was not the wages we’re paying today. It was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years."

On April 20, 2011, a complaint was then issued by the NLRB Acting General Counsel alleging that Boeing violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act by “making coercive statements and threats to employees for engaging in statutorily protected activities, and by deciding to place the second line at a non-union facility, and establish a parts supply program nearby, in retaliation for past strike activity and to chill future strike activity by its union employees.” The complaint also alleges that Boeing’s actions were “inherently destructive of the rights guaranteed employees by Section 7 of the Act."

To remedy the alleged unfair labor practices, the Acting General Counsel seeks an order that would require Boeing to maintain the second production line in Washington State. Absent a settlement between the parties, the next step in the process will be a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge in Seattle, set for June 14, at which both parties will have an opportunity to present evidence and arguments.

Common Sense Counsel: loose lips can sink ships and multi-national airplane manufactures. It is critically important that your company strictly control what your CEO and front line supervisors say about the possible adverse effects of unionization on your company. Conducting TIPS Training is the best way to take preventive action. With regards to unions, under the NLRA an employer can not Threaten, Interrogate, Promise or Spy. See my article Foreign Automotive Manufacturers in UAW Crosshairs and 7 steps which can help your company avoid being a target for a slick talking union organizer

Tommy Eden is a resident of Auburn, an attorney with the local office of Capell & Howard, P.C. and a member of the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law and serves on the Board of Directors for the East Alabama SHRM Chapter. He can be contacted at or 334-501-1540.