Individual cases before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rarely get noticed by anyone other than labor or employment lawyers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth watching. These decisions have broad implications for all employers, not just the one involved directly in the case.
Recently, an NLRB administrative law judge (ALJ) issued a decision that, if allowed to stand, would have significant implications for manufacturers and their intellectual property. The judge concluded that Boeing’s prohibition of cameras—a policy that has been in place for 35 years—constitutes an unfair labor practice because Boeing has no credible business need to protect its manufacturing process. Of course, as technology has developed, the rule has captured additional devices, and today smartphones fall under the ban.
Boeing has good reason to be cautious about allowing unfettered photographic access to its shop floor. For one, its competitors and some foreign governments would love to get their hands on Boeing’s proprietary information. The ALJ would make that easy for corporate spies—just go to an employee’s Facebook page and study photos from inside Boeing. In addition, many of Boeing’s products are subject to strict export controls. Making photos of these products or processes public could violate federal law.
The NLRB’s decision puts Boeing in a tough spot, creating a problem where none existed. And, besides, NLRB lawyers shouldn’t be in the business of creating new rights for employees in the first place.
Because of the dangerous precedent this case could set for future disputes before the NLRB, the NAM filed a brief highlighting this overreach and the impact it would have on businesses, particularly manufacturers. For more information about the case, click here.
Patrick Forrest is Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at the NAM. He also serves as part of the Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action, the leading voice of manufacturers in the courts.