What happened with the Boeing contract-extension votes — and the way they were debated in the media and social media, with all the politicians chiming in to pressure the workers to vote YES — was probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.
In my workplace we are anxiously awaiting news on a tentative agreement. My contract has been in negotiations for almost a year and recently became “amendable” on January 1 as our Collective Bargaining Agreement is under the Railway Labor Act. Once a tentative agreement is reached, our negotiating team will set a schedule to visit all work locations and answer questions. The tentative agreement will be sent to all members. It is estimated to take approximately two months before voting will be complete.
However the first contact-extension “ultimatum” on November 13 for the 31,000 members at Boeing allowed one week before the vote. This occurred in the middle of a five-year contract with almost three years left. This floored me. And the second vote on January 3 was held when a significant percentage of the members were on vacation, when the shops were closed. What was the urgency? This was so wrong.
I fully understand that not everyone participates in the union, but when it comes to contract time, people in our union have always participated. Five thousand members did not participate in the first vote on November 13. And 8,000 union members did not have their voice heard on January 3; in fact, 3,000 of them were never even notified of the vote. With a slim majority voting YES on January 3, and with so many denied the right to vote, only 38% of the members determined the demise of 31,000 members’ defined-benefit pension in order to secure work on the 777X over the next decade.
Unions have a legal obligation to represent their membership fairly. You can’t have a vote while the plant is closed down over a two-week holiday period with little notice.
The NLRB has to rule on the multiple charges filed by our members nullifying the January 3 vote and calling for a new vote. Trade unionists across the country have to take a stand on this question, whatever their view may be of the Boeing contract itself. This isn’t interfering in the internal affairs of another union. It’s taking a stand for basic labor rights, for basic democratic rights.
If we as a labor movement allow such an undemocratic vote to stand, employers will incorporate such union-busting tactics everywhere.
And nor can I understand how it’s legal for a profitable company like Boeing to issue workers this ultimatum — either give us everything we want or we will shut down and move. This should be a violation of labor law.
Negotiations, moreover, should not be played out in the media. This is supposed to be between the company and the union negotiators, who are answerable only to the union members. The company should not be allowed to send letters to the membership encouraging a favorable vote. This is a matter between the negotiators and the members — not the politicians and the members, not the media and the members, not the public and the members.
What played out was a violation of our right to collective bargaining without undue influence, coercion and duress.