George Will / Syndicated columnist
The NLRB vs. Boeing: Obama administration puts politics before the economy
The National Labor Relations Board's complaint against Boeing for building a second 787 assembly plant in South Carolina, writes George F. Will, is emblematic of the Obama administration's willingness to sacrifice the economy on the altar of politics.
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — This summer, the huge Boeing assembly plant here will begin producing 787 Dreamliners — up to three a month, priced at $185 million apiece. It will, unless the National Labor Relations Board, controlled by Democrats and encouraged by Barack Obama's reverberating silence, gets its way.
Last month — 17 months after Boeing announced plans to build here, and with the $2 billion plant nearing completion — the NLRB, collaborating with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, charged that Boeing's decision violated the rights of its unionized workers in Washington state, where some Dreamliners are assembled and still will be even after the plant here is operational. The NLRB has read a 76-year-old statute (the 1935 Wagner Act) perversely, disregarded almost half a century of NLRB and Supreme Court rulings, and patently misrepresented statements by Boeing officials.
South Carolina is one of 22 right-to-work states, where workers cannot be compelled to join a union. When in September 2009, Boeing's South Carolina workers — fuselage sections of 787s already are built here — voted to end their representation by IAM, the union did not accuse Boeing of pre-vote misbehavior. Now, however, the NLRB seeks to establish the principle that moving businesses to such states from non-right-to-work states constitutes prima facie evidence of "unfair labor practices," including intimidation and coercion of labor. This principle would be a powerful incentive for new companies to locate only in right-to-work states.
The NLRB complaint fictitiously says Boeing has decided to "remove" or "transfer" work from Washington. Actually, Boeing has so far added more than 2,000 workers in Washington, where planned production — seven 787s a month, full capacity for that facility — will not be reduced. Besides, how can locating a new plant here violate the rights of IAM members whose collective bargaining agreement with Boeing gives the company the right to locate new production facilities where it deems best?
The NLRB says Boeing has come here "because" IAM strikes have disrupted production and "to discourage" future strikes.
Since 1995, IAM has stopped Boeing's production in three of five labor negotiations, including a 58-day walkout in 2008 that cost the company $1.8 billion and a diminished reputation with customers.
The NLRB uses meretricious editing of Boeing officials' remarks to falsely suggest that anti-union animus motivated the company to locate some production in a right-to-work state. Anyway, it is settled law that companies can consider past strikes when making business decisions to diminish the risk of future disruptions.
The economy is mired in a sluggish recovery. But the destructive — and self-destructive — Obama administration is trying to debilitate the world's largest aerospace corporation and the nation's leading exporter, which has 155,000 U.S. employees and whose 738 million shares are held by individual and institutional investors, mutual funds and retirement accounts. Why? Organized labor, primarily and increasingly confined to government workers, cannot convince private-sector workers that it adds more value to their lives than it subtracts with dues and productivity-damaging work rules. Hence unions' reliance on government coercion where persuasion has failed.
The NLRB's complaint is not a conscientious administration of the law, it is intimidation of business leaders who contemplate locating operations in right-to-work states. Labor loathes section 14(b) of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which allows states to pass right-to-work laws that forbid compulsory unionization. But 11 Democratic senators represent 10 of the 22 — so far — right-to-work states: Mark Pryor (Arkansas), Bill Nelson (Florida), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Mary Landrieu (Louisiana), Ben Nelson (Nebraska), Harry Reid (Nevada), Kay Hagan (North Carolina), Kent Conrad (North Dakota), Tim Johnson (South Dakota), and Jim Webb and Mark Warner (Virginia). Do they support the Obama administration's attempt to cripple their states' economic attractiveness?
The NLRB's attack on Boeing illustrates the Obama administration's penchant for lawlessness displayed when, disregarding bankruptcy law, it traduced the rights of Chrysler's secured creditors. Now the NLRB is suing Arizona and South Dakota because they recently, and by large majorities, passed constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to secret ballots in unionization elections — ballots that complicate coercion by union organizers.
Just as uncompetitive companies try to become wards of the government (beneficiaries of subsidies, tariffs, import quotas), unions unable to compete for workers' allegiance solicit government compulsion to fill their ranks. The NLRB's reckless attempt to break a great corporation, and by extension all businesses, to government's saddle — never mind the collateral damage to the economy — is emblematic of the Obama administration's willingness to sacrifice the economy on the altar of politics.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post, writing about foreign and domestic politics and policy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org