By COLIN STAUB
A five-year effort to get a first contract has come to a close at PCC Structurals, where management refused to recognize the union from the start. Instead, the company waged an all-out legal battle and sought to crush union interest. Non-union workers got raises, and their union counterparts got nothing. In decertification ballots counted last month, a majority of workers voted to leave the union.
PCC Structurals is part of Precision Castparts Corp., a Clackamas-based metals firm that has a long history of opposing unionization. It’s currently owned by Berkshire Hathaway, billionaire Warren Buffet’s holding company. Workers at PCC Structurals produce airplane parts for major manufacturers like Boeing.
In 2013, when Machinists District Lodge W24 tried to organize more than 2,300 Precision Castparts workers at multiple locations, management hired union busters. Human resource managers came onto the shop floor, approaching workers for one-on-one talks to talk them out of unionizing. In the end, the tally was 932 for joining the Machinists, and 1,258 against. The company previously fought off union efforts in 1996, 1995 and in the 1970s.
So when a group of about 100 rework welders at PCC Structurals voted to affiliate with the Machinists in 2017, the company didn’t respond well. Management claimed the smaller unit wasn’t appropriate, that the union could only go for the entire local workforce. But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that organizing just one category of worker was perfectly acceptable and a long-established practice.
Years of legal battles followed. The NLRB national Board in Washington, D.C. weighed in. The legal twists and turns were closely monitored by anti-union law firms who saw the case potentially setting new precedent.
By 2021, the company had lost every one of its appeals, and outside of finally accepting the union, its only remaining legal recourse was to take the argument to the U.S. Supreme Court (which didn’t happen).
But away from the legal realm, the company employed a winning strategy. Because workers never got a first contract, they saw no tangible benefits from unionizing. Instead, they watched as management last October gave 3% raises to non-union workers, while claiming they were legally barred from giving the same to union workers.
“They punish the guys who want to be union and make an example out of them, then give everybody else whatever they want,” said Will Lukens, business representative for Machinists District Lodge W24. The company’s actions led the union to file numerous unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB, at least four of which the agency hasn’t yet ruled on.
When the pandemic hit, the drop in aircraft manufacturing led Precision Castparts, a major Boeing supplier, to lay off hundreds of workers. About a third of the welders unit was cut, and by spring of this year, there were only 60 welders remaining.
The smaller workforce and retaliation against union workers paved the way for a decertification petition filed May 27 on behalf of employee Tobias Hedden with the help of the National Right-to-Work Legal Defense Foundation, a staunchly anti-union group.
Precision Castparts also hired professional union-busters to meet with employees to persuade them to vote out the union. According to federal disclosure forms union-busters are required to file with the U.S. Department of Labor, Chuck Ahern and Danielle Burke from the firm Labor Information Services, Inc. of Agoura, California were hired April 12—six weeks before the decertification petition was filed asking for an election. Then David Burke of the same firm was hired in Sept. 6, just as ballots were being mailed. Both contracts were signed by Ruth Beyer, senior vice president and general counsel for Precision Castparts.
When ballots were counted Sept. 29, 46 workers had voted to reject the union, and just 17 voted to remain represented.
One worker told the Labor Press the company made some improvements to the workplace over the past five years, possibly in response to the union campaign. Managers met with groups of workers in each company department to hear their grievances. The company talked about doing compensation comparison studies with other similar workplaces.
With the union decertified, the company told welders they’ll now get the same 3% raise retroactive to last year.