The NLRB has launched an investigation into the charges, filed by
individual members against the International Association of
Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said Anne Pomerantz, an attorney
with the NLRB regional office in Seattle.
The charges stem from a January 3 vote that approved Boeing's
contract offer by just 600 votes, ensuring its latest jetliner, the
777X, will be built in the Seattle area.
The vote divided the union because, to gain the work, machinists had
to agree to eliminate their pension after 2016.
If the push for a recount fails, which appears likely, Boeing will
resume the rocky relationship with the city and region it helped to
build, although it is less of a force.
Union members allege their international leaders timed the vote to
coincide with the holidays, when many members were on vacation, and
"disenfranchised" them, Pomerantz said.
The members also allege leaders held the vote over objections from
the local district, which considered the new offer too similar to a
November proposal to merit re-balloting.
"All the charges we have seen are against the international, not
Boeing," Pomerantz said.
The "international," an umbrella organization, oversees local
districts, such as District 751, which represents more than 31,000
machinists in the Puget Sound area.
FAIR OR NOT?
"We were not fairly represented by the international," said Robley
Evans, 51, a local union steward and 28-year employee at Boeing, who
filed one of the unfair labor practice charges.
"When you have a vote that was razor thin and you influence it like
that ... It changed the election in my opinion."
But R. Thomas Buffenbarger, international president, said workers
had every opportunity to vote, and 500 applied for electronic
absentee ballots, which could be cast from anywhere.
"This contract vote was probably as accessible to everyone in that
bargaining unit as any I've ever seen," he said in an interview.
The ballots were counted at union halls where workers cast them, he
said, "in eyesight of everyone who wanted to watch."
Pomerantz said the NLRB will interview all sides and determine if
there is merit in moving forward with a case that the leaders did
not provide fair representation. If so, the NLRB General Counsel
could file a complaint.
Boeing noted that none of the charges have been filed against it,
but declined to comment further.
"Boeing has no authority over the voting process or scheduling,"
spokesman Doug Alder said.
Bryan Corliss, spokesman for District 751, said no local leaders
were involved in filing charges.
"This is all being member-driven," he said.
One of four lodges, or local groupings of workers, passed
resolutions on Tuesday calling for an audit and a revote, he said.
The others were expected to meet this week, their first opportunity
to talk since the vote last Friday.
"We're going to hear a lot from our members," he said.
Seattle staged the first U.S. city-wide general strike in 1919, and
that militancy lives on. Boeing has been hit with four major strikes
in the past 25 years, halting 200 days of production in Seattle-area
In an effort to assert independence from the region, Boeing moved
its headquarters to Chicago in 2001. In 2011, it opened a 787
production line in South Carolina, a state much less friendly to
unions, and has acquired land there for expansion.
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Fear that the new widebody aircraft and its new carbon-composite
wing factory would leave the state gave the company leverage on its
workforce and the local government. Boeing received offers from 22
states interested in the factory.
If "the 777X was not built in the region, it would have been a big
hit to Seattle," said Roque Deherrera, a business advocate at
Seattle's Office of Economic Development.
A "no" vote by the union, "would have sent a clear signal that
further models would not be built in Puget Sound, which would be
tremendously significant," said Alex Pietsch, who works for
Washington's governor promoting aerospace.
"The 777X was really the watershed moment."
Boeing's commercial aircraft operation contributes $70 billion to
the state economy through aircraft sales, buying local goods and
paying wages, according to a recent study by aerospace industry
Younger tech workers, who flooded the city over the past two
decades, might earn and spend more, and the economy now includes
Microsoft Corp, Amazon.com Inc, Costco Wholesale Corp, Starbucks
Corp and other big companies. But the loss of Boeing would wipe out
part of the region's middle class and gut blue-collar jobs,
especially around Boeing's plants in Everett and Renton.
To spur a revote, however, the facts would need to show that the
actions of international leaders were discriminatory, arbitrary or
in bad faith, a relatively high bar, said Jeffrey Hirsch, a former
NLRB lawyer who is now a professor and associate dean at the
University of North Carolina.
"If in fact it really disenfranchised folks, that may be an issue,"
But the standard is not whether the election could have been done
better. It is whether the actions were arbitrary.
"A lower turnout doesn't necessarily mean people were
disenfranchised," Hirsch added.
He also noted that with trial and appeals, the case could last three
years or more. By then, Boeing would have built the factory for the
777X, which is due to enter service in 2020.
The machinist have been successful before. In 2011, the NLRB filed a
complaint against Boeing, alleging the company built a new factory
in South Carolina as retaliation against the machinists for
The complaint quoted Boeing Chief Executive Jim McNerney as saying
he was "diversifying (the) labor pool and labor relationship," and
moving 787 work because of "strikes happening every three to four
years in Puget Sound."
The case went to trial, Pomerantz said, but settled when Boeing and
the machinists struck a deal to extend their current contract until
2016, in exchange for work on the 737 jet staying in the Puget Sound
That contract is the one machinists voted last week to extend to
(Reporting by Alwyn Scott and Bill Rigby.)
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