Union Workers Fired (copy) (copy)

The International Association of Machinists union is suing the National Labor Relations Board over the board's ruling that flight-line workers at Boeing's North Charleston plant can't, on their own, join a union. On Friday, Boeing asked a federal judge to let it join the lawsuit. File

Boeing Co. says it should be allowed to take part in a lawsuit pitting the International Association of Machinists against the National Labor Relations Board in the union's latest effort to organize flight-line employees in North Charleston.

The planemaker on Friday filed a formal request to intervene in the complaint, in which the union wants a federal judge to overturn the NLRB's ruling that the workers can't, on their own, form a collective bargaining unit.

The labor board made the ruling in September, more than a year after flight-line workers at Boeing's 787 Dreamliner campus voted to join the union. The company appealed the vote and the NLRB ruled in the company's favor.

The union, in its lawsuit filed this month, says the NLRB overstepped its authority by ignoring bargaining unit standards required by federal law and then adopting new guidelines designed to disqualify the workers from organizing.

The National Labor Relations Board on Monday ruled that flight-line workers at Boeing Co.'s North Charleston plant can't join the International Association of Machinists union as their own separate group.

If the IAM is successful, the union would be allowed to represent the South Carolina plant's roughly 170 flight-line workers.

Boeing said Friday it should be allowed to be a party to the lawsuit because the outcome will have a direct impact on the company. It said it wants a chance "to assert the full range of arguments in opposition to the bargained-for unit" that it put forth in its labor board appeal.

“As we stated when the IAM first filed its petition, the flight line is an illegal micro-unit and we believe the NLRB's clear recognition of that will withstand the IAM’s latest legal ploy,” said Boeing spokeswoman Libba Holland. “This lawsuit directly involves Boeing, our teammates, and our community partners throughout the Lowcountry. We are simply asking that the court allow us to be included in a matter that directly impacts us.”

Boeing said it also wants the right to appeal the court's decision if the union wins, adding there's no guarantee the labor board would file an appeal on its own if it loses the case.

No court date has been set and it's not clear when a judge will rule on Boeing's request.

The union's lawsuit alleges the labor board contradicted itself by ruling the two types of workers who make up the flight-line — technicians and inspectors — have too little in common to form a bargaining unit, despite acknowledging their "nearly identical terms and conditions of employment" and their inclusion under the same job classification. 

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The board then said the flight-line workers have too much in common with the rest of the plant’s roughly 2,700 production and maintenance staff to qualify as a separate bargaining unit.

If the flight-line workers have common interests with the rest of the plant, the lawsuit states, they must have common interests with each other as well.

While reaching the contradictory conclusion, according to the lawsuit, the board also failed to consider standards mandated by the National Labor Relations Act that would have given flight-line workers the right to organize.

The board’s ruling also overturned an earlier decision by the labor agency’s regional director, who said the flight-line workers are a proper bargaining unit.

The lawsuit is the latest in the IAM’s nearly two-year struggle to represent Boeing’s flight-line workers. The union filed a petition for an election in March 2018 and a majority of about 178 flight line workers voted two months later to join the union, setting up a lengthy appeal process. Boeing had refused to negotiate with the IAM while the NLRB’s decision was pending.

In addition to the labor board, the IAM’s lawsuit names as defendants the individual members: John Ring, Marvin Kaplan, William Emanuel and Lauren McFerran. The board voted 3-1 to overturn the North Charleston union vote. McFerran dissented.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_