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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"Are we going to use the full power and bully nature of government to say business cannot be located in a state that might happen to vote Republican?" Sen. Paul said. "I find this appalling, and I respectfully ask the president to immediately rescind this assault on business.”
The White House has said it won't comment on an independent agency matter, though Republicans have threatened to hold up several key appointments unless Obama forces the NLRB to drop the complaint. It's not uncommon for the NLRB to lean in the general political direction of the person in the White House. President Reagan's NLRB board, for example, took over a dozen anti-union stances in a single year during his presidency.
But even as the NLRB's Mr. Solomon appeared to soften his tone this week, opening the door to a possible settlement, it's still not clear what the NLRB ultimately wants. Does it seek labor concessions from Boeing? Or is it demanding that it abandon its new North Charleston plant and move the line back to Seattle?
"One possibility is this is just an odd case where, for whatever reason, we have management saying on the record that they're doing this because they don't like strikes," Prof. Sachs said. "But if it's indicative of the NLRB's view you can't relocate to avoid unions it's far more significant."
Depending on the ruling by an NLRB administrative judge at a June 14 hearing, as well as possible subsequent full-board hearings and court challenges, the Boeing complaint has the potential to stir deeper passions in an America in the middle of what many feel is a jobless recovery, says Prof. Chaison. While the US added 244,000 jobs last month, the unemployment rate rose from 8.8 percent to 9 percent, signaling the US economy's difficulty in finding traction.
"The [Boeing controversy] really deals with some primal fears not just about competition between the US and other countries for jobs, but between states for jobs," he says. "To have a labor board in Washington declare that an employer can't make decisions about plant relocation to people in South Carolina seems like a states' rights issue, but to people in other states it seems like the [NLRB] is just enforcing the law and preventing an employer from doing something coercive."