Charges by several unions that National Steel & Shipbuilding Co. violated federal labor laws when it cut some workers' wages by more than 50% have been thrown out by the National Labor Relations Board.
Nassco unilaterally instituted the sweeping cuts in October, when both sides reached an impasse after negotiating for several weeks on a new contract to replace the one that expired Sept. 30. Wages for experienced journeymen were reduced by an average of 17.6%, but some unskilled workers saw their paychecks cut by as much as 56%.
Fred Hallett, Nassco vice president for finance, said the cuts were necessary so that the company could remain competitive in the ship construction business. During the negotiations, leaders of seven craft unions that represent shipyard workers had refused to accept the pay cuts, leading to an impasse that resulted in a federal mediator being drawn into the talks.
The unions filed the charges against the shipyard on Oct. 9, when the pay cuts took effect. Union negotiators charged that the cuts were illegal because Nassco instituted them while the two sides were still negotiating and the company failed to consider a counteroffer from the unions.
'Not Specific Enough'
On Monday, James McDermott, NLRB regional attorney in Los Angeles, said that NLRB officials decided that the unions' offer "was not specific enough." Under federal labor laws, Nassco could legally enforce the terms of the last contract offered to the unions when both sides reached an impasse, McDermott said.
"That's what happened in this case, in our view . . . Basically, it (unions' offer) was 'Let's keep bargaining,' " said McDermott. "I wouldn't characterize it any way other than as a general, non-specific offer to continue negotiations."
McDermott said that the NLRB's decision to reject the unions' charges was reached last week and attorneys for both sides were notified.
Bud Michaels, an official with the International Assn. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said the unions were disappointed by the NLRB's decision but declined further comment until union negotiators study the decision.
Hallett said Nassco officials were pleased by the decision because "it confirms that we did not violate the law."
The next move is up to the union, McDermott said. If union negotiators do not file for a dismissal of the charges, they can appeal the NLRB regional office's decision to the board's general counsel in Washington, he said.