Precision Castparts Portland Workers Vote Not to Unionize, but The Union Will Try Again
Friday, June 7, 2013
By Richard Read
Workers at Precision Castparts Corp.'s Portland-area plants have voted against joining a union in Oregon's biggest such private-sector election in more than 30 years. According to preliminary results released by the union Friday night, Precision employees voted 1,258 to 932 not to join the International. More than 2,300 employees of Oregon's only Fortune 500 Company besides Nike were eligible to vote.
The result of the election Thursday and Friday was a setback for organized labor, which has been making gains in Oregon's public sector. Precision would have been a big prize for the union, under the noses of managers at the company's global headquarters in Portland. But Frank Larkin, a spokesman at union headquarters in Maryland, said the Machinists would keep trying to organize Precision's plants.
"With that level of support, it's not unusual for an organizing campaign to sustain several elections before representation is achieved," Larkin said. "We don't give up easy." Jay Khetani, a Precision spokesman, said before the vote that company managers would have no comment. But a management-backed Web site confirmed the preliminary election results Friday night.
In a hard-fought campaign, managers of the manufacturer of airplane and gas-turbine parts urged workers to reject the Machinists' union as an unwelcome third party that would hurt the company's business. They hinted that if Portland-area plants unionized, the company could move jobs to Mexico or elsewhere offshore. The outsourcing argument apparently hit a nerve among employees working for a global company that's expanding operations abroad.
The United States has lost 21,000 manufacturing jobs since March, according to Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a business lobbying organization. While the nation gained 175,000 jobs in May, he said, "an alarming number of them were in the low-wage retail and service sectors." Precision managers hired The Burke Group, a national anti-union consultant, and labor attorneys at Stoel Rives, a Portland law firm, to help with their campaign. They ran a blog with a Web address closely resembling that of a site started by pro-union Precision workers.
Employees criticized management for poor communication and arbitrary decisions, saying they were fed up with working mandatory weekend overtime shifts on short notice. The Machinists' union tweeted preliminary results late Friday. Given that 20 votes were contested, 2,190 votes were cast –- amounting to almost all of Precision's eligible employees.
Portland officials of the National Labor Relations Board, which supervised the election, planned to announce the final results Monday. The union campaign began in 2011, when some Precision workers began collecting sign-up cards, Larkin said. Once they exceeded a threshold of 30 percent of workers, the NLRB launched the election process.
Unions have tried to organize Precision's Portland-area workers before. In 1996, Portland employees voted down a bid by the United Steelworkers of America. Of 1,900 workers then, 573 voted for the union. This week's vote occurred as Precision prospered. Its shares broke another record Friday, trading as high as $219.41 before closing at $218.38 on the New York Stock Exchange. That's up more than 13 percent, year to date. Analysts continue to recommend buying the stock. Precision sales hit a record $8.4 billion this fiscal year as the company's aerospace revenues soared. The company spent billions of dollars acquiring 12 businesses in fiscal 2013 and expects to buy more.
Precision keeps a low profile in Oregon, maintaining its headquarters in a virtually anonymous office building set back from Southwest Macadam Avenue. But the company is the world's biggest manufacturer of forged rotating parts for jet engines. It's the largest producer of high-performance nickel-based alloys.
About 22 percent of Precision's 28,500 employees worldwide are organized. Union membership in Oregon has rebounded since hitting a low of 13.8 percent of the state's workforce in 2006. Last year it was 15.7 percent, well above the nation's 11.3 percent average. The Machinists' union represents 720,000 workers in North America, including employees of Boeing, Amtrak and airlines. Larkin, the union spokesman, said he didn't know how soon Precision workers would take another shot at unionizing. "We're gratified by the positive response of so many workers," he said.