NLRB Withdraws Lawsuit Against Boeing

The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”; “the Board”) dropped its retaliation lawsuit against Boeing at the urging of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (“Machinists”) after it signed a contract with Boeing on Dec. 9, 2011.  The NLRB brought the case in April 2011, after Boeing moved a production line from Washington state to a non-union shop in South Carolina in retaliation against workers for staging a strike in 2008.

The NLRB decision to file a complaint drew controversy from the outset.  The NLRB found that Boeing’s motives were retaliatory after Boeing executives admitted that the Machinists’s history of striking (workers in Washington state have staged five strikes since 1977) was an “overriding factor” in deciding to open the South Carolina plant. The National Labor Relations Act (“the Act”) forbids employers from retaliating against and intimidating unions from protected activities such as engaging in strikes.  However, the Act also allows employers to make decisions on hiring and building new facilities so long as the decision is not unlawful.  Since the NLRB issued the complaint, the House, in response, passed the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, which would strip the Board of its authority to order a shutdown of corporate operations, even if an employer violates labor law.  The bill is now awaiting a Senate vote.  Additionally, Congressional Republicans have threatened to block President Obama’s nominations to the Board.  The five-member board currently has two openings, and another seat will open later this month.

In the end, NLRB v. Boeing is a victory for unions and serves as a testament to the effectiveness of collective bargaining.  Workers successfully sought to enforce their rights through available legal means.  The NLRB complaint armed the Machinists with a huge bargaining chip at the negotiation table, and as a result, the parties were able to mutually agree to a contract and settle the case.  The parties achieved all this without the need for a strike, litigation, or third-party intervention, which is the ultimate goal of collective bargaining.

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