Welders at Precision Castparts vote to join Machinists union

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Welders at Precision Castparts Corp. manufacturing sites in the Portland area voted 54 to 38 on Sept. 22 to join International Association of Machinists District Lodge W24.

Precision Castparts makes cast parts like jet engine components for aerospace and other industries. It has collective bargaining agreements at some unionized subsidiaries in other locations, and since 2015 it has been owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which owns other unionized companies. But in the Portland area, Precision Castparts is a major nonunion industrial employer, and the company brought in antiunion consultants in an effort to stay that way.

Machinists District Lodge W24 organizer Will Lukens said Precision Castparts’ campaign followed the standard antiunion playbook.

“They tried everything they could to scare them,” Lukens said.

In the weeks before the union vote, Lukens said, the company also brought in contract welders for the first time — and asked the existing welders to train them.

Brett Clevidence, a 16-year Precision Castparts employee, told the Labor Press that he and his coworkers voted for a union because they want greater job security and more say over compensation and working conditions. Clevidence stressed that the vote for the union wasn’t a vote against the company.

“We’re all here to feed our families,” Clevidence said. “It’s very important that the company and our customers know that we are 100 percent committed to our customer needs.”

The union vote came after some legal wrangling over whether workers in a single department or occupational classification could unionize while others remained nonunion. The Machinists asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in July to hold a union election for a proposed unit consisting of 100 rework welders at Precision Castparts sites in the Portland area. But Precision Castparts argued that the only legally appropriate union bargaining unit was the company’s entire 2,000-plus local production and maintenance workforce. That group as a whole rejected unionization by about a 4 to 3 margin four years ago, following three previous unsuccessful attempts to unionize, in the 1970s and 1990s.

But the NLRB rejected Precision Castparts’ argument in accord with its decision in a 2011 case known as Specialty Healthcare. That case opened the door to smaller units known as “micro-units.”  Antiunion business groups have thundered against that ruling ever since, and paid for an unsuccessful court challenge. They hope it will be overturned after new Trump appointees take their seats on the NLRB.

Precision Castparts has appealed the NLRB’s ruling allowing the welders-only union bargaining unit. But for now, at least, the company is required by federal law to recognize and bargain with the union.

Lukens said the next step is for the union to work with the welders to appoint and train union stewards in the workplace to defend members, and to form a contract bargaining committee. Members will likely seek safety improvements, better health benefits, and wage increases, Lukens said. Wages currently range from $26 to $31 an hour among members of the group.

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