Boeing broke federal labor law by banning talk of unions on company time at its North Charleston site, an administrative law judge found in a ruling issued Friday. The jet maker can't prohibit workers from talking about unions if it allows them to talk about other topics not related to work, the judge wrote.
The NLRB brought the complaint against Boeing at the behest of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The judge's ruling against Boeing comes as the labor union considers an organizing effort at the South Carolina site.
The South Carolina 787 final assembly site has been a point of contention between Boeing and the Machinists.
Prompted by District 751 of the Machinists, the NLRB filed in 2011 a federal lawsuit against Boeing, claiming the company illegally retaliated against union workers in Washington state for labor strikes when Boeing picked North Charleston for additional work.
The NLRB case drew plenty of attention in the business community and among politicians.
Ultimately, the union agreed to drop the case in exchange for a guarantee from Boeing for 737 MAX work. The two also inked a new labor contract late last year.
Workers at a 787 subassembly site in South Carolina voted out the Machinists union shortly before the company picked North Charleston for the second Dreamliner assembly line. The original line is here in Everett.
The union recently held informational meetings for Boeing workers in South Carolina. The Machinists anticipate holding a vote to allow representation at Boeing South Carolina, a union representative told The Post and Courier newspaper earlier this week.
“We're committed to working with our employees down in Charleston,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney said on Wednesday, during the company's earnings call with journalists and analysts. “It's not clear to us they need representation. We like dealing directly with our employees.”
Boeing spokeswoman Candy Eslinger expressed disappointment over the ruling in an email sent Saturday.
"Boeing does not – and has not – told any employee that he or she can’t talk about the union (or any other subject) during work time, as long as the discussions don’t impact production," Eslinger wrote. "To the contrary, we encourage our South Carolina teammates to carefully consider the impact that a union would have on their relationship with management, and talking about the IAM’s attempt to organize Charleston is an important aspect of their decision-making."
In his ruling, administrative law judge William Nelson Cates instructed Boeing to cease the ban on talking about the union at the South Carolina site. Boeing also has to post notices at the North Charleston facility acknowledging that it violated labor law and informing workers of their rights.