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Labor Board Clears Boeing For Takeoff, Ices Funky Bargaining Unit

In the latest turn of a union campaign saga for Boeing, the National Labor Relations Board invalidated a bargaining unit at Boeing’s South Carolina facility this week by applying its PCC Structurals, Inc. decision.

The source of the saga was the Obama Board’s 2011 decision in Specialty Healthcare, which opened the floodgates on “micro-units” – small bargaining units within a larger facility of employees. The decision was a boon for unions, which are more effective organizing small groups of workers than gaining majority support of an entire workforce. That decision served as the basis for the Board affirming funky bargaining units for years until Specialty Healthcare was overturned in 2017 by PCC Structurals, Inc., which reinstated the traditional community of interest test in determining appropriate bargaining units.

Despite that win for employers, Boeing saw the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers organize a micro-unit win at its South Carolina facility in 2018. After the IAM failed twice in organizing Boeing’s 2,700-employee facility, it successfully petitioned for an election with roughly 178 technicians/mechanics at the plant – just 6 percent of the workforce. Boeing refused to bargain, setting up an appeal over the appropriateness of the fractured micro-unit. That appeal issued Monday, handing Boeing the win and clarifying the Board’s community of interest test under PCC Structurals, Inc.

The Board explained that, when determining whether a petitioned-for unit is appropriate, it will consider:

  1. Whether the members of the petitioned-for unit share a community of interest with each other

  2. Whether the employees excluded from the unit have meaningfully distinct interests in the context of collective bargaining that outweigh similarities with unit members

  3. Guidelines the Board has established for appropriate unit configurations in specific industries

In Boeing’s case, the Board determined that the mechanics did not share an internal community of interest with each other and did not have meaningfully distinct interests from the other 94 percent of the workforce excluded from the unit. The Board also concluded that there were no appropriate-unit guidelines specific to the employer’s industry.

Despite this win, the fight over scope of unit in union elections will continue to be difficult. For example, after being remanded by the Board, the regional director overseeing the election in PCC Structurals, Inc. found – under the community of interest test – that the micro-unit in that case was still proper.

© 2020 BARNES & THORNBURG LLPNational Law Review, Volume IX, Number 253


About this Author

Thomas Payne Labor and Employment Attorney Barnes Thornburg Law Firm Indianapolis

Thomas Payne is an associate in the Indianapolis office of Barnes & Thornburg, where he is a member of the Labor and Employment Department.

Prior to joining Barnes & Thornburg full time, Thomas served as a summer associate in the firm’s Indianapolis office. He also gained experience as a pro bono law clerk for the Indiana Office of the Attorney General and for the Honorable Lance Hamner of the Johnson County Superior Court.

With an eye toward becoming a lawyer, Thomas began his education at Purdue University,...