The ruling clarifies the board's "community-of-interest" standard for determining whether a petitioned-for unit within a workplace is appropriate. The board said it will consider the following three points:
- Whether the members of the petitioned-for unit share a community of interest with each other.
- Whether the employees excluded from the unit have meaningfully distinct interests in the context of collective bargaining that outweigh similarities with unit members.
- Whether the proposed unit meets guidelines that the board established for appropriate units in specific industries.
The board found that the mechanics in the proposed unit didn't share an "internal community of interest" and didn't have "sufficiently distinct interests" from other employees who were excluded from the petitioned-for unit. The board also noted that there were no appropriate-unit guidelines specific to the industry.
NLRB Chairman John Ring was joined by Marvin Kaplan and William Emanuel in the majority opinion. Lauren McFerran disagreed with the majority and said she would have found the petitioned-for unit appropriate.
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Larger Unionization Efforts Failed
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) had failed to unionize about 2,700 workers at the South Carolina aircraft production plant. Thereafter, IAM attempted to represent a smaller group, and the NLRB's regional director approved a bargaining unit made up of about 178 flight readiness technicians and flight readiness technician inspectors. But Boeing argued that the mechanics should be included in the larger community of workers and asked the board to review the decision and find the petitioned-for unit inappropriate.
Siding with Boeing, the board said the interests shared between the two job classifications were too disparate. They share the same terms and conditions of employment, skills and training, but they belonged to separate departments and had different reporting structures.
"Lacking an internal community of interest, the petitioned-for unit is inappropriate at the first step, and we need not continue the analysis any further," the board said. However, the NLRB noted that the unit didn't pass the second prong of the community-of-interest standard either. "Particularly compelling here is that … the employees in the petitioned-for unit have a high degree of functional integration with excluded employees on the employer's 787 production line," the board said. "We find that excluded production-and-maintenance employees would largely have the same interests."
SHRM Supports Boeing's Efforts to Reconsider Micro-Bargaining Unit
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has long been concerned about the impact that fractured bargaining units have on the operations of a company as employers juggle multiple collective bargaining agreements within the same workplace. Bargaining with several subsets of employee-unions is particularly difficult in an integrated manufacturing setting such as the Boeing plant. Allowing for incremental organizing of a company through micro-bargaining units also disenfranchises dissenting employees who may be in the majority in defeating a larger unit but find themselves marginalized within a small unit.
Problems with Multiple Bargaining Agreements
Juggling multiple bargaining agreements with different small bargaining units within an organization could overwhelm businesses. Employers could lose operational flexibility as workers from one department might not be able to pick up shifts in another if different unions represented the different departments. Employees also might not be able to perform work assigned to another unit if there are micro-bargaining units present, reducing skill-building, training and job opportunities. Cross training, promotions and transfers all would be hindered by barriers created by multiple smaller bargaining units, according to a friend-of-the court brief SHRM filed in the case.
Return to Community-of-Interest Standard
In a 2017 decision, PCC Structurals, Inc., the NLRB announced its "return to the traditional community-of-interest standard that [it] has applied throughout most of its history." In that case, the board voted by a 3-2 margin to overturn the Obama board's Specialty Healthcare micro-bargaining unit decision. In PCC Structurals, the board said that it would return to scrutinizing petitioned-for bargaining units on a case-by-case basis to determine if they are appropriate. Specialty Healthcare required that employers objecting to petitioned-for bargaining units show that employees excluded from the units share an "overwhelming" community of interest with those workers in the petitioned-for units.
More Business-Friendly Standards
The NLRB's Republican majority has recently rolled back or considered revising certain Obama-era rules in favor of more business-friendly standards. For instance, the board is having second thoughts about some of its earlier decisions that shocked the business community by finding certain profane and racially offensive outbursts are protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
Written by Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP, Senior Legal Editor