Mind Over Matter: What Managers Can Learn from the NLRB Boeing Complaint

by Denny Strigl

Last week it was reported that the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint alleging that Boeing violated labor law by transferring work to a non union facility in South Carolina.

Here’s what I know:  In 2007 Boeing said they were going to build seven 787 Dreamliners per month in Washington State.  A couple of years later, the company announced it would build three more 787s per month in South Carolina.  The Boeing Washington workers are union members represented by the International Association of Machinist.  The Boeing workers in South Carolina are not union members.  The union alleges that the company’s decision to expand in South Carolina was made in retaliation for past union strikes.  The company has claimed that no such retaliation has occurred, and the decision to expand into South Carolina was purely a business decision.  As I understand it, the company even talked to the union in advance, asked for some assurances on various union work rules, etc. and when they didn’t get the assurances they were seeking, they made their decision to expand to South Carolina.  Further, as a result of Boeing’s decision to expand production of the 787s in South Carolina not one union member in Washington State lost their job, and in fact additional workers have been hired in Washington.  In other words, there has been no movement of any existing work out of Washington State.  So, based on this information, why are the unions suing and, if they were really concerned about their workers, why didn’t they respond to company officials initial request to change union work rules, etc. that might have gotten the extra three Dreamliners per month allocated to the Washington plant, giving their members more work and potentially more money.

It seems that nowadays, unions have forgotten what their true purpose is and are more concerned with increasing their membership rolls, thereby collecting more union dues and filling the pockets of union bosses.  In other words, they seem more interested in their own survival, particularly as fewer private sector workers join unions, than they are with bettering the working conditions of the very people they claim to represent.

Unions served a very important purpose when they first came into existence over 70 years ago, but much has changed since then.  Unions thrive when they are able to cast managers as “bad guys” or “the enemy”.  Managers can avoid letting that happen by staying close to their employees.

Unionized or not, managers should always listen carefully to your employees and manage with the “Mindset of Successful Managers” as discussed in chapter 7 of our book, Managers Can You Hear Me Now?I won’t repeat what is written in chapter 7 except to say being honest and open at all times is key to dealing with unionization.

Further Reading:

NLRB Boeing Complaint

NLRB will sue Ariz., SD over union laws

Labor Board Tells Boeing New Factory Breaks Law

NLRB continues its crusade to unionize America

South Carolina Lawmakers Livid About Boeing NLRB Complaint

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