Machinists Prove Labor Board Leverage Has Value, When it Works

Labor Organizing

 Little Rock                  To great fanfare the Machinists and its District Lodge (local union) 751 announced a new precedent setting deal with Boeing in Washington.  There was plenty of sugar in this coffee!  Reports on the 4-year package included an 8% bump in wages when inflation is now less than 1%, improved pension formulas, a $5000 signing or ratification bonus which is nothing to sneeze at, and job security guarantees that would protect thousands of jobs in the Seattle area.  The agreement was 10 months before expiration and marked a stark difference from the 2-month strike that marked the 2008 agreement and had both sides playing kissy-face.

The Times must have felt obligated to point out that demand for planes were increasing and the competition between Boeing and Airbus was intense with customers demanding labor peace before putting in new Boeing orders.  Mainly that’s a way of saying that the union was winning more in 2011 than it won in 2008 on the strike settlement.

The real 800 pound gorilla in the room sitting on the union side of the table was the fact that the NLRB had shown rare courage in having issued a complaint to the Machinists charges that Boeing located the $750 million plant in South Carolina due to anti-union animus.  With quotes from the CEO as part of the evidence where he was crystal clear that they were running from the strength of the union, IAM clearly had a case even though in these days and times the notion of Boeing pulling up stakes and rolling almost a billion to restitution the work in Washington confounds the imagination.  Win or lose with the NLRB, the lawsuits would have gone on for years, if not decades, and ended up at the Supreme Court, where it’s anyone’s guess, but these days the smart money is on business in that race.  The NLRB, Boeing, and red South Carolina versus blue Washington, have become flap jaw issues for all of the Republican presidential candidates as well.

Nonetheless, having an NLRB that actually did its job and was unfair to rule with the law, and let the chips fall, regardless of the consequences is so far and the impact so far reaching that injustice done to the union and the workers was so crystal clear that Boeing could do the pocketbook calculations even if they weren’t suddenly filled with union love.  Whatever they are paying on this contract is more than offset by what it would have cost them in the event they had lost and been forced to re-site the plant or renegotiate with the union on the plant location.

The machinists won this contract on the street in 2008 and by continuing to fight tooth and nail until they won respect and in the process stiffened the weak spine of the NLRB so that workers could see what an effective tool the board might be if it always showed the courage to respect the law and make it right.  We may not have many moments when we can celebrate the NLRB doing right and doing well, but here’s one, so here’s to them!