NLRB Ends Highly Charged Case Against Boeing Following Labor Deal

Dec. 12, 2011
The high-profile case may have concluded, but signs point to continued scrutiny of federal agency.

The National Labor Relations Boards pursuit of the Boeing Co. for alleged unfair labor practices came to an abrupt end on Friday as the federal agency approved the withdrawal of charges by the machinists union against the aerospace giant.

The federal agency had charged Chicago-based Boeing with illegally transferring work on its 787 Dreamliner to a new South Carolina facility in retaliation for past union strikes at its Washington state production site. Boeing has steadfastly denied the accusation since April, when the NLRB first issued the complaint.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers asked to withdraw the charges following the ratification of a four-year collective bargaining agreement between its members and Boeing earlier in the week, according to NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon. That agreement assures assembly of the modernized 737 remains in Washington state.

"This is the outcome we have always preferred, and one that is typical for our agency," said Solomon in a statement.

Solomons prosaic statement following the conclusion of the high-profile case belies the strong emotions and controversy that have accompanied it from the start -- and which have seen the agency come under intense scrutiny.

Indeed, Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, made clear that the conclusion of the Boeing case would not end his committees investigation of the NLRB.

"NLRB's record of rogue action and lack of transparency with the public and Congress in this case -- and in others -- has raised serious questions that remain unanswered," Issa said in a statement.

Issa has been seeking documentation from the NLRB regarding its decision-making process in the Boeing case, claiming the agency has been less than forthcoming. In August he charged the board with failing to comply with a federal subpoena, a charge the NLRB denied.

The close of the Boeing case should end the agencys reluctance to turn over materials, Issa said.

Issa: Hand Over the Documents

NLRB has long asserted that it could not fully cooperate with this Committee because of this action. Now that that is no longer the case, "it is incumbent on NLRB to expeditiously hand over all documents and materials required as part of the Committees investigation," Issa said.

The Boeing dispute also spurred legislation to remove the National Labor Relations Board's ability to order companies to close, relocate or transfer employment. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., in July, takes aim at the remedy sought by the NLRB for alleged unfair labor practices committed by the Boeing Co.

The agency had had said it wanted Boeing to "return" the Dreamliner work slated for the South Carolina facility to Washington state. Opponents of the NLRB's remedy have stated it puts some 1,000 jobs in South Carolina at risk.

The bill passed the House in September and awaits Senate action.

Scott made clear on Friday that the NLRBs decision to drop the case would not halt efforts to rein in the agencys powers.

"The NLRB has established a dangerous precedent with their actions thus far that they are willing and ready to kill American jobs to support a political agenda. I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress to remove this ability, and to ensure the board once again acts as the unbiased entity it was chartered to be," he said in a statement.

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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