The aircraft manufacturer Boeing has drawn the ire of the National Labor Relations Board. The company assembles 787 Dreamliners (a kind of plane) in Seattle, Wash., and is putting a second Dreamliner plant in South Carolina, scheduled to open in July. The labor board filed a complaint against Boeing, alleging that its decision to build the plant in South Carolina is retaliation for union activity in the state of Washington.
The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers is the collective-bargaining representative of the Boeing workers in the Seattle area. The association has engaged in six strikes over the past 35 years. In its complaint against Boeing, the labor board argued that the firm made several “coercive” statements to its employees that they would lose work in the event of future strikes.
The complaint cites a number of sources which indicate Boeing is building the plant in South Carolina because it is a right-to-work state and therefore the company would face fewer work stoppages. The labor board makes reference to an interview Boeing CEO Jim McNerney gave to a Seattle newspaper in 2009 in which he said the plant was being built in South Carolina due to “strikes happening every three to four years in Puget Sound [the Seattle area].”
The labor board’s case against Boeing is that workers have a right to strike under the National Labor Relations Act, and that Boeing’s activities are “inherently destructive of the rights guaranteed employees.” To remedy the problem, Boeing must build its second Dreamliner plant in the state of Washington and employ the IAM union in the Seattle area. Boeing is not prohibited from using its plant in South Carolina or using South Carolinian labor, provided its hiring decisions are “non-discriminatory,” meaning not favoring workers because of their union status. However, unless Boeing wants to build a third Dreamliner plant, the effect of this decision will be to close the plant in South Carolina. The board’s decision is not final and will go to an administrative judge in June.
I will not pretend to be an expert on labor-relations law. The labor board may be interpreting the law perfectly well. If it is, I cannot believe the United States, the land of the free, would let stand a law so suffocating to commerce. It is certainly in Boeing’s interests and in the interests of aircraft consumers to have fewer work stoppages. But evidently, the company must be indifferent to work stoppages. If it prefers workers who produce something over those who don’t, it is engaging in unlawful discrimination.
The board thinks it’s standing up for workers’ rights. What about the workers in South Carolina? Who is representing their rights, namely their right to freely enter into contracts? It is the labor board that is destroying rights, not Boeing.