Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Boeing that the firm cannot open a new factory in a “right to work” state, South Carolina, because the move was undertaken to avoid strikes that plagued the firm’s factory in Puget Sound, Washington. Is this a new departure for the Board, and does it in any way go way beyond its original mandate?
Boeing’s plant is near Puget Sound, and negotiations with the International Association of Machinists collapsed when the union refused to agree to a long-term no strike clause. What Boeing was upset about was that the IAM went on strike four times since 1989, and the company claimed it cost them nearly $2 billion in lost revenue.
The NLRB complaint cites the words of a senior Boeing official, who told The Seattle Times that “we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.” The plant, however, had been planned for the past two years, and Boeing has already hired one thousand workers who would not have jobs if the company is prohibited from building in South Carolina. So it comes down to whether the union will stop non-union workers from getting a job and earning a living, in order to force Boeing to build and expand next to the plant that already exists in Puget Sound. And, it turns out that at the Puget Sound factory, Boeing has already hired 2000 more workers since October of 2009, even though they had already announced construction of the Charleston plant!
What the NLRB is doing is using a labor grievance as an excuse to interfere with a corporation’s right to build plants were it wants, and a Boeing executive is correct when he says that the NLRB complaint is “legally frivolous and represents a radical departure from both NLRB and Supreme Court precedent.” A corporation certainly has the right to consider whether or not strikes will occur that interfere with production, when making a decision where to operate. Since Boeing is not closing the Washington plant, and is actually hiring more workers there, it is hardly a case of workers losing jobs when a new plant is built elsewhere.
Indeed, it marks a new departure in the corporatist and statist policy of the Obama administration. For the first time, a government board dominated by pro-union appointees is being empowered to tell a private corporation where to build a new factory. The NLRB decision, as an editorial in The Examiner points out, violated the existing Boeing agreement with the IAM that allows the firm to build in other areas.
Evidently the money given by the government to Boeing in contracts, Export-Import Bank loans and the like is not as valuable to the administration now as using its power to placate the AFL-CIO and the IAM, which gives almost all of its contributions to Democrats, and hardly any to Republicans. A new election is looming, and the administration needs those union workers to get out the vote, man the phone banks and take to the streets in the forthcoming campaign. If labor feels betrayed, and does not get its troops out as it did in 2008, the Republicans could well win the election, no matter whom they finally choose as a candidate.
The real question, as columnist Kathleen Parker puts it, “is whether unions should be allowed essentially to veto where a company locates and conducts business.” The answer is no, they should not be so allowed. If they are given this as a new right, it is simply one more grand departure from the NLRB’s original mandate, and is far removed from modifying the law so that unions can be legal and workers can freely join them if they so choose.
So, the defeat of the union movement’s plan in this new campaign would be a victory for the national interest. The IAM’s goals, now backed by the NLRB complaint, are a major example of how the administration is seeking to gain leftist goals by executive fiat, rather than through collective bargaining agreements between management and labor in the private sector, where no government compulsion exists.