The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Boeing South Carolina’s flight line workers cannot unionize as a separate group, reversing a previous decision by the NLRB’s regional director and vacating the certification of a May 2018 vote.

The International Association of Machinists said it intends to continue the organizing campaign at Boeing South Carolina, but it’s unclear what that might mean given the NLRB’s ruling.

The board said in its opinion that the union had expressed an unwillingness at the hearing to proceed with an election that included workers beyond the flight line. After a previous union vote where the union was soundly rejected in 2017, the IAM closed its offices on Dorchester Road and has not reopened.

Flight readiness technicians and inspectors at the North Charleston facility voted 104-65 to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Boeing appealed the results of the election a few weeks later.

In a 3-1 vote, the NLRB said that the interests shared by the 178 flight readiness technicians and flight readiness technician inspectors “are too disparate to form a community of interest,” which is required to unionize.

“FRTs and FRTIs also have significantly different interests in the context of collective bargaining,” the NLRB wrote in its majority opinion (.pdf). “They belong to separate departments and do not share any supervision with each other, immediately or at any level below CEO.”

Flight line technicians, the board said, belong to Boeing’s operations department with other technicians at the facility, and flight line technician inspectors are in the quality department with the rest of the production line’s quality inspectors. Other than working side-by-side on the same tasks, the NLRB said the two groups are distinct.

The board also said that excluded employees would largely have the same collective bargaining interests as the flight line workers. Flight line workers have an additional certification to allow them to work on aircraft after Federal Aviation Authority certification, but the NLRB said that difference was not significant enough.

“Beyond a few minor differences, such as being able to wear shorts and having slightly different shift times, FRTs and FRTIs share all other terms and conditions of employment with excluded production-and-maintenance employees,” the NLRB wrote.

In a news release, the International Association of Machinists said it intends to continue organize at the North Charleston plan. The organization, which was highly critical of the NLRB’s decision, said “justice” would prevail eventually.

 “We will not relent or back down. … This decision is irresponsible and reckless,” the IAM said. “American workers are under attack from those who value corporations over working families. We stand with the flight line and all workers at Boeing South Carolina and justice will prevail when their voices are recognized.”

Brad Zaback, Boeing’s 787 program vice president, said in a news release that the company is pleased with the NLRB’s decision to prevent the IAM’s “attempt to isolate our flight line teammates from the rest of the site.”

“With the clarity that today’s NLRB decision brings, we will go forward as one Boeing South Carolina team to work with our teammates directly, to meet tomorrow’s challenges, and continue the site’s great work to build the world’s most advanced airplanes,” Zaback said.

The May 2018 vote was the third unionization attempt in recent years at Boeing South Carolina.

The first planned election was for production and maintenance workers in 2015, but the union canceled it a few days before it was scheduled to take place. Boeing said the move showed a lack of interest by its workforce; the union said the company had intimidated its workers from voting in favor of representation.

The second election occurred in February 2017, during which production and maintenance Boeing S.C. workers overwhelmingly voted against unionization. Seventy-four percent of eligible voters said they were not in favor of representation, and the union soon closed its office on Dorchester Road in North Charleston.



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