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Boeing Ruling Prompts Union to Sue Federal Labor Board (1)

Nov. 14, 2019, 10:50 PMUpdated: Nov. 15, 2019, 5:05 PM

The Machinists union sued the National Labor Relations Board alleging the agency exceeded its authority when it overturned a unionization vote by Boeing Co. workers in South Carolina.

The workers voted to join the International Association of Machinists in a 2018 election, but the NLRB subsequently reviewed the matter and ruled that the workers didn’t have enough in common to participate in the same election and join the same unit within the IAM. The holding came in a 3-1 decision, with the board’s lone Democrat dissenting.

Now the IAM is challenging the board’s decision, suing under a rarely used procedure that allows federal district courts to review an NLRB ruling on a bargaining unit when a complainant alleges the agency acted “in excess of its delegated powers and contrary to a specific prohibition” in the National Labor Relations Act—the law the agency is authorized to interpret and enforce. NLRB decisions on what constitutes an appropriate unit, or a “bargaining unit” are generally unreviewable, and the NLRB gets the final say in almost all cases.

“It’ll be an important decision if the court reverses the board, as it should,” IAM General Counsel Mark Schneider said. “But at the end of the day it’s about vindicating these workers’ rights to have a union.”

Although lawsuits under the exception are considered long shots, a successful argument that the board exceeded its authority would further undercut the current board, whose leadership of the agency and stewardship of labor laws has been criticized by some staffers and worker advocates. On the other hand, a loss for the IAM almost certainly would close the book on the long-running dispute between the union and Boeing, with the company coming out on top.

“The National Labor Relations Board has already decided this matter based on well-established law, precedent and the facts,” a Boeing spokesperson said in a Nov. 14 email. “We remain highly confident in its ruling.”

In its case, “the NLRB adopted a new three-step process for exercising its statutory authority” to determine whether a group of workers is an appropriate unit for collective bargaining or not, the IAM said in its complaint. The board acted in excess of its authority at two different steps in the process when it vacated the results of the election the IAM had won, the union said.

“Moreover, the board’s delay in issuing its decision—some 15 months after the IAM’s decisive victory” weighs in favor of a ruling for the union, IAM said.

The NLRB declined to comment on the recently filed lawsuit, citing the early stage of the dispute.

The case is International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers v. Ring, D.S.C., No. 2:19-cv-03214, 11/13/19.

To contact the reporters on this story: Hassan A. Kanu in Washington at hkanu@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Wallender in Washington at awallender@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com; Karl Hardy at khardy@bloomberglaw.com