Can federal bureaucrats tell a private company where to build a factory? Members of President Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board think they can.
In a decision that The New York Times is describing as “highly unusual for the federal government,” Lafe Solomon, who was appointed to the board by Obama, filed a complaint on behalf of the NLRB on Wednesday seeking to force Boeing to build a new assembly line in Washington state instead of South Carolina.
The NLRB action stems from Boeing’s October 2009 decision to build a new factory for its new 787 Dreamliner airplane near Charleston, S.C. Boeing first sought to build the new plant near its existing facility in Puget Sound, Wash., but negotiations with the International Association of Machinists broke down when the union refused to agree to a long-term no-strike clause. The IAM had goen on strike four times since 1989, costing Boeing at least $1.8 billion in revenue.
That’s when Boeing chose South Carolina, a right-to-work state where, unlike Washington, workers are not forced to join unions. As a result of this policy, only 6.2 percent of South Carolinians belong to unions. Construction of Boeing’s new Charleston factory is nearly complete, and the company has already hired more than 1,000 new employees, drawn mostly from within the immediate region.
And back in Washington, Boeing has actually increased employment at its Puget Sound plant by an additional 2,000 workers. But that apparently isn’t good enough. After suffering major defeats in Wisconsin and Ohio, the labor movement is looking for a win. Obama’s NLRB is trying to turn Boeing into one.
The NLRB is hanging its case on a senior Boeing official’s statement to the Seattle Times that “the overriding factor [in transferring the line] … was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.”
The NLRB absurdly claims this is “unlawful employer speech” that infringes on “a worker’s fundamental” right to strike. But the Supreme Court has long held that firms may consider the economic impact of strikes when making business decisions. Also, Boeing’s existing collective bargaining agreement with the IAM allows Boeing to build new facilities at other locations.
An administrative-law judge will hear Boeing’s objection to the NLRB’s complaint June 14, so there still is hope sanity will prevail. But a decision in favor of the IAM would be a disaster not just for Boeing, but for American workers everywhere. A ruling in favor of the NLRB would make it presumptively illegal for any unionized firm to invest in a right-to-work state.
At first, this would mainly hurt right-to-work states, as they would no longer be able to lure new businesses from existing unionized firms. But over the long run, this policy would hurt unions and all Americans.
Why would any domestic company choose to build a factory in a forced-union state if they knew that meant they could never expand to a right-to-work state? Why would any international firm invest anywhere in this country if they know the White House will favor their political allies? The NLRB isn’t protecting workers — it is setting them up for eventual unemployment.