SHRM Opposes Boeing’s Micro-Bargaining Units

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. July 18, 2018
SHRM Opposes Boeing’s Micro-Bargaining Units

​Micro-bargaining units persist, despite a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) decision last December that overturned a standard that made it easier for small units to be established within companies.

An NLRB regional director's decision, delivered in May, recognized small units within Boeing at a manufacturing facility in North Charleston, S.C., a decision that the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) opposed in a July 16 brief. SHRM filed the brief with the National Association of Manufacturers and the HR Policy Association.

The recognition of the micro-bargaining units would present problems with multiple bargaining agreements, the brief states. The regional director wrongly rejected the presumption that the bargaining unit should have been plantwide, and the focus on the micro-bargaining unit workers' specialized training was misplaced, the brief adds.

"Having multiple bargaining units, like the one approved at Boeing's South Carolina manufacturing facility, makes it hard for employers to address employee concerns without disrupting business operations," said SHRM's Nancy Hammer, vice president, regulatory affairs and judicial counsel. NLRB review of the regional director's decision would provide "an important opportunity to make sure board precedent is correctly applied at Boeing and in future cases."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with U.S. Labor Relations Laws in Nonunion Settings]

Recognition of Small Units Questioned

The regional director's decision recognized the small units, even after efforts to organize all production and maintenance employees at the South Carolina 787 Dreamliner manufacturing facility failed twice. Following a third vote, the NLRB regional director determined that two positions within the plant—flight readiness technicians (FRTs) and flight readiness technician inspectors (FRTIs)—constituted a unit appropriate for collective bargaining.

This decision contradicts the NLRB's 2017 holding, PCC Structurals, which overturned a 2011 case (Specialty Healthcare) that had let labor unions "cherry-pick" bargaining units, said James Plunkett, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Washington, D.C. PCC Structurals returned the board to its long-standing test for bargaining-unit determinations: whether employees in a petitioned-for unit share a community of interests sufficiently distinct from other employees to warrant the establishment of a separate unit.

In Boeing, the NLRB regional director acknowledged the presumption in favor of plantwide units. But the regional director failed to consider whether the interests of the FRT and FRTI classifications are so different from those of other employees that they can't be represented in the same unit, the brief states.

"Indeed, given the union's prior, failed attempt to represent all production and maintenance employees at the plant, including FRTs and FRTIs, the regional director could not have concluded that the FRTs and FRTIs cannot be represented in the same unit as the other production and maintenance employees," it adds.

The petitioning union conceded, in seeking the initial election, that all production and maintenance employees at the plant clearly could be represented in one unit. Thus, under long-standing board precedent, a plantwide unit is the only appropriate one under the NLRA, the brief maintains.

While the Boeing decision is a ruling by an NLRB regional director and not the board itself, "it has led to concern within the business community that the PCC Structurals standard isn't being properly applied," Plunkett noted.

Problems with Multiple Bargaining Agreements

Juggling the administrative tasks associated with multiple bargaining agreements with different small bargaining units within an organization could overwhelm businesses, the brief notes. Employers could lose operational flexibility as workers from one department might not be able to pick up shifts in another if different unions represented the different departments.

Employees also might not be able to perform work assigned to another unit if there are micro-bargaining units present, reducing skill-building, training and job opportunities. Cross training, promotions and transfers all would be hindered by barriers created by multiple smaller bargaining units, the brief states.

Multiple unions representing multiple bargaining units within a single manufacturing facility could lead to tension among employees and competing unions. Dissatisfied workers comparing salaries and benefits and fighting about overtime, seniority, and differing layoff and job bid procedures could unduly burden the business with work stoppages or other actions, the brief asserts. Just a handful of employees represented by a union for a micro-bargaining unit might threaten the economic well-being of the rest of the company's employees, it states.

In addition, "HR professionals would have to process grievances filed by multiple unions concerning multiple collective bargaining agreements," Plunkett noted.

Focus on Specialized Training Was Misplaced

While the regional director relied on the requirement that FRTs and FRTIs have a particular Federal Aviation Administration license, he ignored that the license isn't unique to FTS and FRTIS, nor is it necessary to any task performed by them, the brief states.

Employees who receive specialized training will more often be certified in separate units under the regional director's rationale. This would have far-reaching consequences on the manufacturing sector as it becomes more technologically advanced, especially as high-performance work systems require specialized training.

"The FRTs and FRTIs' additional training and specialization makes them more integrated with the remainder of the workforce, not less," the brief states.

Boeing Has Refused to Bargain

During its appeal of the regional director's decision, Boeing has declined to bargain with the flight-line technicians.

Mike Evans, lead organizer for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Boeing South Carolina, said, "The Machinists Union represents 35,000 members at Boeing locations throughout the nation. For some reason, Boeing executives are choosing to ignore the wishes of hard-working men and women in South Carolina."

He added, "We will continue to call on Boeing to treat every worker with respect and join us at the negotiating table to continue our partnership for the betterment of every Boeing employee."



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