The U.S. Government’s Case Against Boeing


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The U.S. Government’s Case Against Boeing


April 28, 2011 - “I can’t not issue a complaint in the face of such evidence.” That was the reaction from National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon, when asked about his decision to issue a complaint against the Boeing Company. 

Few NLRB complaints have generated as much publicity. Hundreds of media outlets reported on the announcement, ranging from workers’ rights advocates who welcomed the news, to conservative politicians who issued spittle-flecked condemnations. 

Among the most misleading statements that followed the complaint was an erroneous claim, repeated ad nauseam in the conservative blogosphere, that unions were seeking the ability to veto where a company locates and conducts business.

A similar canard came from Boeing’s Executive Vice President and General Counsel J. Michael Luttig, who declared, “This claim is legally frivolous and represents a radical departure from both NLRB and Supreme Court precedent.” The “frivolous” statement by Boeing ignores the extensive investigation by the NLRB and fails to acknowledge established case law, including U.S. Supreme Court decisions that clearly establish an employer’s legal boundaries regarding retaliation against employees for protected activity. 

Additionally, Boeing complained about how long the Board took to complete its investigation, while omitting mention of their own campaign to prolong the investigation with multiple requests designed to delay any complaint by the NLRB. 

“The NLRB investigated and found clear violations of federal labor law,” said IAM Vice President Rich Michalski. “The next question is, what remedy is appropriate? What we want is for the government to enforce the rule of law. We want an effective remedy that will tell our members in Puget Sound that Boeing cannot get away with retaliatory behavior.” 

On April 20, 2011, the Acting General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the Boeing Company alleging that it violated federal labor law by deciding to transfer a second airplane production line from a union facility in the state of Washington to a non-union facility in South Carolina for discriminatory reasons. A hearing has been set for June 14, 2011 in Seattle before an administrative law judge. 


On March 26, 2010, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District Lodge 751, filed a charge with the 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. 

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, which is protected under the National Labor Relations Act. The union also charged that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act by failing to negotiate over the decision to transfer the production line. The Machinists’ union has represented Boeing Company employees in the Puget Sound area of Washington, where the planes are assembled, since 1936, and in Portland, Oregon, where some airplane parts are made, since 1975. 

Throughout the investigation of the charge, NLRB officials met with both parties in efforts to facilitate a settlement agreement. The overwhelming majority of NLRB charges found to have merit are settled by agreement. Although no settlement was reached and the Agency was compelled to pursue litigation, the Acting General Counsel remains open to a resolution between the parties. 

The complaint issued by the Acting General Counsel (19-CA-32431) alleges 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 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." 

The complaint also alleges that Boeing’s actions were “inherently destructive of the rights guaranteed employees by Section 7 of the Act." The investigation did not find merit to the union’s charge that Boeing failed to bargain in good faith over its decision regarding the second line. Although a decision to locate unit work would typically be a mandatory subject of bargaining, in this case, the union had waived its right to bargain on the issue in its collective bargaining agreement with Boeing.

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