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Boeing Machinists Strike, 1948

HistoryLink.org Essay 2283 : Printer-Friendly Format

On April 22, 1948, the Aeronautical Machinists Union, IAM District Lodge 751, struck the Boeing Company. William Allen was then president of Boeing. For the Machinists the issues were preserving longstanding seniority rules that the company wanted to scrap, and achieving a 10 cent per hour raise for all categories of labor. The strike was characterized by the unusual occurrence of another union, Dave Beck's Teamsters, collaborating with the company to defeat the machinists union. On September 13, 1948, the Machinists returned to work without a victory, but in the subsequent NLRB-supervised election they soundly defeated the Teamsters.

New Era, New Manager

On September 5, 1945, William Allen, a longtime attorney at the Boeing Company, assumed the presidency of the aircraft company. Almost immediately, massive postwar layoffs began. Allen brought a different labor relations philosophy to the company -- as Boeing employees would find out before the new decade began.

1947 Contract Negotiations

When contract negotiations began in January 1947, it became clear that the Boeing Company wanted to turn back the clock on seniority provisions that had been negotiated as far back as 1937. For example, the company wanted 10 percent of the bargaining unit to be exempt from seniority; it wanted blanket disqualification of women from open jobs if, in the Boeing Company's opinion, the job required a man; and it wanted the elimination of plant-wide seniority. The Machinists' union wanted to protect seniority and to attain a 10 cents per hour raise for all labor grades.

Formal negotiations opened on March 16, 1947, with the 1946 contract "in full force and effect." By April, the Machinists' Union accused the Boeing Company of not negotiating in good faith and filed strike notice (a 30 day cooling off period was required.)

On May 10, 1947, the union held a General Membership Meeting to discuss the situation. On May 24, 1947, the union rejected the Boeing Company's final offer and authorized a strike. From June to December 1947, the company and the union negotiated only sporadically.

Boeing Revises Its Proposal

The Boeing Company submitted a revised proposal on January 6, 1948 and negotiations were intensive for about 90 days. At mid-March 15, the Machinists' Union offered to submit unresolved articles to arbitration. The Boeing Company demanded the right of veto in the choice of arbiters and demanded to submit the entire contract to arbitration. The Machinists' Union refused those conditions. On March 26, 1948, under provisions of the new Taft-Hartley law, the NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) held an election to determine if the union was authorized to negotiate a union shop. The vote was a resounding 12,000 YES to 800 NO.

April Deadlines Set

On April 13, 1948, the Machinists' Union established April 16 as the deadline for choice of arbiters. The Boeing Company refused to budge. So, on April 20, the Machinists' Union District Council and 320 shop stewards voted to strike at 12.30 a.m., April 22, 1948. The Machinists' Union District Council met again on April 21 to review the circumstances. One report tells of some of the reaction:

"Grand Lodge Representative Cotton addressed this meeting and cautioned the members as to possible consequences of such strike action, reminding them of their weak strategic position, and informing them that the advice of the Grand Lodge (the national union) was to stay on the job. However, emotions were running high and he was booed from the platform."

At the prescribed time on April 22, 1948, the Machinists' Union members laid down their tools and struck the Boeing Company. By April 28, the national union, International Association of Machinists, granted strike sanction.

Dave Beck's Not-So-Friendly Intervention - Local 451 Formed

On May 28, 1948, Dave Beck, president of Joint Council 28 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, announced that Teamsters would seek jurisdiction at the Boeing Company. At this time, the IAM was not affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), having disaffiliated in 1945 over the failure of the AFL to settle a jurisdictional dispute between the IAM and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Beck's raid was intended to capture all of Machinists' Union 751 membership. He organized Aeronautical Workers and Warehousemen Helpers Union Local 451. He opened a hiring hall to recruit strike breakers for Boeing. In the words of Sam Bassett, an attorney on the Teamsters' staff during 1948 (and a founder of the oldest labor law firm in Seattle), "I am sure that Mr. Allen will not deny that he came to Dave Beck's office and requested him to assist in breaking the strike of the Aero Mechanics' Union."

Beck and Boeing recruited strikebreakers and scabs through most of the 1948 strike period. (Note: The term strikebreaker is used to mean a person newly hired during a strike; a scab is an employee who crosses a picket line set up by co-workers.)

NLRB Acts

In June 1948, the National Labor Relations Board requested District Court to grant an injunction requiring the Boeing Company to bargain. The court refused. By late July, it was becoming difficult for the Machinists' Union to remain on strike. The Boeing Company refused to bargain. The Boeing Company, with Beck and the Teamsters, was recruiting strikebreakers and some members are becoming scabs. On July 20, the NLRB ordered the Boeing Company "to cease and desist from refusing to bargain with Lodge 751" and to reinstate "all employees who went on strike on April 22, 1948, without prejudice."

In August, William Allen and the Boeing Company announced their intention both to ignore the NLRB and to carry the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Boeing Company defied the NLRB until September.

Machinists End Strike

On September 13, 1948, Machinists' Union members went back to work for the following reasons:

  • They were concerned about the Teamsters Local 451.
  • The cost of the strike had gone over $2 million.
  • About a third of the original 14,000 members had defected.
  • The Boeing Company continued to refuse to bargain.
  • The Boeing Company and Beck and the Teamsters continued to recruit strikers.
  • The provisions of the new Taft-Hartley Act made the strike more difficult to win.

The Boeing Company took the workers back because it was accruing a large financial burden with a fine of $172,000 per day from the NLRB reinstatement order, and, probably, most importantly, high military authorities wanted no further delay in production of the B50 because of Cold War pressures.

This set the stage for the NLRB election between Machinists' Union District Lodge 751, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 451, and the Taft-Hartley required "No Union." The International Association of Machinists, District Lodge 751's national union, was outside the AFL and had been since 1945. In the minds of other AFL affiliates that made IAM local unions the same as renegade unions and so-called fair game for raiding. Though some AFL and CIO unions supported District Lodge 751, the powerful Seattle Central Labor Council threw its support behind William Allan's "labor statesman" Dave Beck and Local 451.

The NLRB set the election for November 1, 1949. Despite the help of AFL president William Green, Beck's Teamsters lost that election. District Lodge 751 received 8,107 votes; the Teamsters Local 451 received 4,127 votes, and the Taft-Hartley "No union" received a mere 401 votes.

Sources:
Blood On the Water: A History of District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (Seattle: District Lodge 751, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, ca. 1989), 95-112, 113-148; Renton Chronicle, September 1, 1949, p. 2; Ibid., October 20, 1949, Sec 2, pp. 3, 4; Ibid., October 27, 1949, Sec 2, pp. 2, 4; Tom Tippett, "History of District Lodge 751, 1935-1963," typeset proof in possession of Ross Rieder, Seattle.


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Ouch! It Hurts! cartoon commenting on Boeing's 130 percent per year turnover rate in 1942
Courtesy Boeing Aero Mechanics Union


William Allen (1900-1985)
Courtesy Argus Magazine


Anti-scab flyer, 1948
Courtesy Boeing Aero Mechanics Union


During the 1948 strike, the Teamsters ran a hiring hall to recruit strikebreakers for Boeing
Courtesy Boeing Aero Mechanics Union


Photographs of Boeing scabs, "Dishonor Roll," 1948
Courtesy Boeing Aero Mechanics Union


Teamster leader Dave Beck (1894-1993), 1950s



Boeing strikebreakers pass strikers lining up for reinstatement after 1948 strike.



 
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