Yes, welders can unionize at Precision Castparts, NLRB rules

At a Nov. 16 picket along Southeast Johnson Creek Boulevard in Milwaukie, Oregon, Machinists protest Precision Castparts delay in recognizing a union vote by workers.

A group of 100 highly skilled welders at Precision Castparts can have a union after all, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ruled.

The Portland-area welders voted 54 to 38 to join the Machinists union on Sept. 22, 2017, but Precision Castparts filed a legal appeal with the NLRB, arguing that a welders-only bargaining unit wouldn’t be appropriate, because the welders work in 18 separate departments at three separate campuses.

When workers seek to unionize, the NLRB determines which of their co-workers do and don’t belong in their proposed bargaining unit, if employer and union don’t agree about that. Under federal law, units can include all of an employer’s workers, those at a particular location or department, or those in a particular craft specialty.

PCC said the only appropriate unit would consist of all 2,500 Portland-area workers. No doubt it argued that because the larger group has voted several times against unionizing.

The case went all the way up to the Board in Washington, DC., where a 3-2 majority of Trump appointees used it to overturn a major Obama-era NLRB decision known as Specialty Healthcare. Since 2011, business groups had derided the Specialty Healthcare ruling, saying it allowed “micro-unions.” When the Board overturned Specialty on Dec. 16, it directed the NLRB’s Seattle regional director Ron Hooks to take another look at whether a welders-only unit would be appropriate at Precision Castparts.

Yes, it would, Hooks determined. In a May 4 decision, Hooks said that even under the pre-Specialty standards, the welders would qualify as an appropriate bargaining unit — as certified practitioners of a specialized craft. Members of the group are the only Precision employees to do what they do. They use gas metal arc welding, gas tungsten arc welding, shielded metal arc welding, and plasma arc welding to repair defects in metal castings such as jet engine components.

“We’re taking it as a victory,” said Machinists Grand Lodge Representative Bill Anderson.

Will Precision Castparts now recognize the union and get down to bargaining a first contract? The company has until May 18 to request a review of the decision.

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