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Contract Vote Ends Controversial NLRB Case on Boeing Plant

The April 2011 unfair labor practice charge that was filed against the Boeing Co. and that became an immediate flashpoint for criticism of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), has been withdrawn. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union asked to withdraw the charge after its members ratified a four-year collective bargaining agreement on December 7.

“I am very happy to announce that my office has approved the withdrawal of a charge by the Machinists union against the Boeing Co., which brings our case in this matter to an end,” NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon said in a December 9 statement.

Among other things, the new union contract ensures that Boeing will build its new 737 MAX jet near Seattle. The company’s decision to locate another major production line — one for its 787 jet — in right-to-work South Carolina instead of Washington state prompted the union to claim that the company’s decision was in retaliation for previous work stoppages at unionized operations in Washington.

According to a statement from Boeing, the company announced before the contract vote that the 737 MAX would be produced in an existing facility in Renton, Washington, if union members accepted the contract. “The vote ratifies an agreement between the company and union that builds on an emerging spirit of cooperation and collaboration and places production of the 737 MAX in Renton,” the statement said.

Critics of the NLRB claimed that the agency was siding with the union in the controversy over locating the production line in South Carolina. That criticism heated up in August when the NLRB refused to comply with a subpoena from a congressional committee calling for the agency to turn over documents related to its actions against Boeing.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, condemned the Board’s decision on the subpoena, saying, “This refusal by NLRB to abide by the law further heightens concerns that this is a rogue agency acting improperly.” Solomon responded to Issa with a letter saying the Board had provided the committee more than 1,500 pages of documents, which he said should have been sufficient “to allow the Committee to assess the legal merit of the Boeing complaint.”

In his December 9 statement, Solomon praised the new agreement between Boeing and the union. “This is the outcome we have always preferred, and one that is typical for our agency. About 90 percent of meritorious NLRB cases are resolved as a result of agreements between the parties or settlements with the agency before the conclusion of litigation.”