Boeing's South Carolina move: Illegal union bashing or just good business?
Presidential politics and anti-union sentiments are fueling a growing debate over the NLRB's complaint against Boeing for moving part of its Dreamliner assembly line to South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
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Boeing is getting set to open the $2 billion, 3,800-employee facility this summer. But the NLRB complaint, made in response to the AFL-CIO and the International Association of Machinists, points to specific statements by Boeing officials connecting the South Carolina move to the 2008 strikes, which could put the company in violation of federal labor law. The complaint pointed to a specific statement made by a Boeing official to the Seattle Times, where he said that the "overriding factor" behind the South Carolina decision "was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years."Skip to next paragraph
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In its defense, Boeing has said there were many other factors undergirding the South Carolina decision, including its international port and lower cost of doing business. Boeing also notes that it's added 2,000 jobs to the Washington line since 2009, a fact that it believes makes the NLRB complaint that Boeing is bent on punishing Puget Sound workers "legally frivolous."
Even before this year's battles over collective bargaining in Wisconsin and other Midwestern states, Boeing's 2009 decision to fill some of the 800 Dreamliner 787 orders with a new line in North Charleston was widely seen as a devastating blow against unions, which have steadily lost influence over industrial policy over the last decades. Expensive union contracts were also cited by automakers during the 2008 hearings that led to a government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler.
Union officials across the US see the Boeing complaint as a Maginot Line with the potential to stem what could become a more dramatic outflow of industry from unions states to right-to-work states, and a subsequent further weakening of union clout, as the US economy recalibrates after the Great Recession.
"The truth is, every job on the unlawful second line in South Carolina displaces good middle-class, union jobs in Washington, and our communities and the state lose desperately needed revenue and economic activity," writes Jeff Johnson, president of the Washington State Labor Council, in a Seattle Times op-ed.
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GOP presidential aspirant Tim Pawlenty raised the Boeing complaint at a recent GOP event, and at the Chamber of Commerce roundtable, Haley and other Republicans again addressed what they call an "attack" by the Obama administration on free enterprise and the 22 right-to-work states.