NLRB to Boeing: Cease recording union activity

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. says it will fight a federal judge’s ruling that during contract talks it committed unfair labor practices, including illegally photographing unionized employees during marches at Boeing plants in Everett, Renton and Portland, Oregon.

The union, the the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), represents engineers and technical workers. In a statement on its website, the union called the ruling a “searing indictment” of anti-union intimidation by Boeing.

The U.S. National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that Boeing security guards illegally photographed and videotaped SPEEA members during four marches from September through December 2012, when the union and company were negotiating a new contract. During the marches, some members carried placards with slogans such as “No nerds, no birds.”

The ruling came from Administrative Law Judge Gerald Etchingham in Seattle. He found that Boeing also gave employees the impression that union activities would be watched and recorded.

Boeing argued that it had acted out of concern for safety. For example, the company said the guards recorded employees because they were not wearing required safety goggles and stepped out of pedestrian walkways inside the plants.

“The NLRB decision represents an unjustified and unprecedented intrusion into our right to protect the security of our facilities and proprietary information,” the company said in a statement issued Friday. “The law does not require employers to permit unregulated photography within the workplace, or to ignore the disruption and safety concerns created by in-plant marches, and we intend to take all necessary steps to ensure that this decision is overturned.”

In his ruling, Etchingham dismissed Boeing’s safety arguments. Marchers did not do anything that Boeing employees don’t regularly do, he said. The only difference was they were marching in support of SPEEA.

Further, Boeing actually changed its training for security guards to permit surveilling peaceful union activity. In 2008, the company explicitly told guards not to record peaceful picket line conduct. But that prohibition had been taken out of the training document prior to the first march in September 2012, according to the judge’s ruling.

Etchingham ordered Boeing to “cease and desist” recording union activities and to post notices in the plants stating that it will not record such conduct.

“This ruling is a searing indictment of the illegal intimidation tactics Boeing uses against its own employees,” said Ray Goforth, SPEEA’s executive director, in a statement on the union’s website.

In early 2013, union members approved Boeing’s contract offer, which included wage raises but changed retirement benefits for new hires, who would get a defined contribution plan rather than a defined benefit pension plan.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454;; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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