Boeing: Dismissing workers rights or practicing good business? [The Conversation]
Boeing's new nonunion plant in "right-to-work" South Carolina has landed the company in a controversial federal lawsuit. The National Labor Relations Board contends that Boeing is punishing its union workers in Washington for going on strike, and that the move to South Carolina was an illegal one. Boeing is saying that it acted in the best interest of the bottom line. (In other words: With its new plant, it didn't want to factor in the cost of employees who go on strike.) The company's Republican supporters agree: Boeing made a strategic decision during a down economy, and it deserves praise for creating jobs in U.S. The moral quandary is where to side now that the plant is open and employing 12,000 people in South Carolina?
Boeing isn't committing an anti-union jihad
The key difference between the two Boeing locations is the cost of doing business. The unionized workforce in Everett has walked the picket line five times since 1975, most recently in 2008, where the strike lasted 52 days. As Boeing's Executive Vice President Jim Albaugh told The Seattle Times, "we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years." […]
[K]eep in mind that Boeing hasn't fired a single unionized employee in Washington or shifted a single piece of existing union work out of state. In fact, the company has added an additional 2,000 union jobs in Washington since announcing its plans for the South Carolina facility last year and says it plans on hiring more. Not exactly an anti-union jihad.
NLRB is killing jobs
Vulnerable Democrats face an almost impossible choice: Side with Boeing and buck not only the White House but also ditch the unions that have long contributed to Democratic campaigns. But side with the unions and the federal government in a lawsuit challenging Boeing's move into anti-union South Carolina, and you run afoul of Big Business in many Southern and Midwestern right-to-work states. […]
"We live in the United States of America, and people shouldn't be forced to belong or be a member in any organization," said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty. "And the government has no business telling people what group you have to be a member of or not."
"The right-to-work states are creating a lot more jobs today than the heavily unionized states," added former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
And businessman Herman Cain said the Obama administration -- through the actions of the NLRB -- is "killing our free-market system."
If President Obama really cares about the U.S. economy, he'll get involved
Did you hear what President Obama said about the National Labor Relations Board's complaint against Boeing Co.? We didn't either.
Mr. Obama has been touting his plan to double the country's export growth by 2015, thereby creating two million new jobs. Now one of the country's foremost exporters is under assault for seeking a lower-cost venue for manufacturing to stay globally competitive, and the President has had nothing to say. […]
The President isn't above wading into labor disagreements in the states. When unions objected to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's plan to reform his state's arrangement with public employee unions earlier this year, Mr. Obama said he didn't like to see unions "denigrated or vilified" or have their "rights infringed upon."
So here is a seminal case about the ability of a corporation to manage its own assets and decide where to locate its business. Should the NLRB be able to block an American company's domestic expansion? Mr. President, how are your labor appointees assisting American jobs and exports?
NLRB gets it wrong
Employers who engage in unfair labor practices should be penalized. But the NLRB's move goes too far and would undermine a company's ability to consider all legitimate factors -- including potential work disruptions -- when making plans. It also substitutes the government's judgment for that of the company. This is neither good law nor good business.
This could end up hurting union-friendly states
Even if the judge rules against Boeing, though, the remedy sought by the complaint -- moving the second production and supply lines for the Dreamliner back to Washington and Oregon -- would be too draconian a response. Local 751 can be assured of its right to strike after its contract expires next year without dictating where Boeing expands its operations. Otherwise, companies may be reluctant to locate in union-friendly states for fear of being trapped there.
--Alexandra Le Tellier
Photos: Boeing Co.'s new 787 Dreamliner plant in Charleston, S.C. Credit: Stephen Morton/Bloomberg