Could Boeing face a new complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, this time over where the 777X assembly site will be placed? A Cornell University labor professor thinks it possible.
The union-backed publication In These Times wrote on November 25 that Boeing’s shopping the assembly site around following the rejection of a contract offer by IAM 751 November 13 is reminiscent of the 2009 decision to locate the second 787 assembly line in South Carolina in the aftermath of a 57-day751 strike in 2008. The 751 District filed a complaint with the NLRB that that decision was an illegal retaliation and the staff agreed, filing a formal complaint against Boeing and demanding that the assembly line be relocated to Everett (WA). The complaint was dismissed in 2011 when 751 and Boeing agreed to locate the 737 MAX line in Renton (WA) in exchange for a four year extension of the 2008 contract. The secret negotiations took place a year before the 2008 contract was to expire.
The November contract offer would have extended the 2016 contract to 2024 in exchange for dramatic concessions that the 751 membership rejected. Boeing said it would shop the 777X assembly site around if the members failed to ratify the contract, and this is exactly what Boeing did. Bids are due next week and a decision on a site location is due shortly after the first of the year.
In These Times wrote: Boeing’s thinly veiled ultimatum may represent a violation of labor law, according to Cornell University labor professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, the author of No Holds Barred: The Intensification of Employer Opposition to Organizing. “Boeing is doing exactly the same thing that they got punished for two years ago [in South Carolina],” she explains. “Threatening to move to get concession is bad-faith bargaining under the National Labor Relations Act.” At this point, it is not clear if the IAM will file charges with the NLRB against Boeing like it did two years ago.
Boeing, of course, would respond to any new complaint as it did with the previous NLRB action: it has a right to make a business decision where to locate its work. We would agree but for the history of making ultimatums. If Boeing had simply engaged in a bidding process to begin with while concurrently seeking a new contract as part of this bidding process and economic analysis, we think Boeing could avoid these sorts of confrontational upsets. As we wrote on November 21, Boeing could position such as a strategic positive rather than a confrontational ultimatum:
Confrontation and Ultimatums
Boeing has created the impression with Washington State, IAM 751 and SPEEA that it prefers confrontation and ultimatums to cooperation and accommodation. Boeing is not shy about telling these parties that “if you don’t do this, we will leave.” There is a fine line between being straight-forward and candid vs giving the appearance of ultimatums. Boeing seems to cross that line on a regular basis.
Boeing vs Airbus
Airbus diversified its production from its historical bases in Toulouse and Hamburg with a new A320 line in Tianjin, operations for several years, and Mobile (AL), now under construction. There is a significant difference in the positioning Airbus used vs Boeing’s approach. Airbus positioned these two new lines as strategic positives. Boeing used South Carolina and is now using 777X as tactical confrontations with its union, and to a lesser extent, with Washington State.
Few could have valid complaints if Boeing had issued Requests for Proposals first, with the union making an offer or negotiated a contract in parallel with the bidding process.