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Ron Radosh

Last week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Boeing that the firm cannot open a new factory in a “right to work” state, South Carolina, because the move was undertaken to avoid strikes that plagued the firm’s factory in Puget Sound, Washington. Is this a new departure for the Board, and does it in any way go way beyond its original mandate?

The NLRB was created as an enforcement mechanism of the Wagner Act in July of 1935. That Act restored the balance between business and labor by protecting the right to organize, so that workers who chose to join a union could not be fired at will by anti-union employers. The Board protected the right to organize, and had powers of investigation and enforcement built into it. It became an “unfair labor practice” for employers to interfere with, restrain or coerce workers exercising their right to organize. Employers were now forbidden to discriminate against those workers who decided or wished to join a union. For example, a packing company in Sioux City, Iowa, had to post a sign that “no one will be discharged, demoted, transferred, put on less desirable jobs, or laid off because [a worker] joins Local No. 70 or any other labor organization.”  And workers who had lost their jobs for such reasons had to be rehired and paid full back pay.

The Board legalized unions, and brought them into the mainstream of American life. Unfair labor practices were prohibited, and management that sought to ignore or fight unions now had to bargain with them in good faith. The Wagner Act also made “company unions,” mechanisms that the companies created as alternatives to actual worker chosen organizations, essentially illegal. Bargaining representatives were to be chosen by majority rule via votes by members of a plant or factory. Unions then became certified bargaining agents.

It is important to recall all of this, when we survey today’s landscape and see how far organized labor has moved. Card check, which union bosses supported during the last presidential campaign, sought to go way beyond this, by essentially, as Mark Hemingway writes in his very important cover story in The Weekly Standard, giving organizers the power to “form a union by getting workers to sign cards declaring their support for unionization.” No elections to be certified by the NLRB would be necessary, and unions could “identify publicly workers opposed to unionization and use coercive tactics against them.”

The unions were now seeking protection to employ the very same tactics anti-union employers used against them in the 1930s, before the Wagner Act was passed. They were also seeking to in fact undo the secret elections leading to certification they had fought so hard to obtain during the early New Deal years.

Now, recent events reveal that labor, having failed to pass card check for the time being, is trying to use the new pro-union Board stacked with new appointments made by President Obama to hurt business and in effect make fiscally sound business decisions illegal by government fiat. Last Wednesday the NLRB filed a complaint seeking to force Boeing to stop building a new airplane plant near Charleston, South Carolina — a “right to work state” — and to expand the current plant that exists in the state of Washington.

Boeing’s plant is near Puget Sound, and negotiations with the International Association of Machinists collapsed when the union refused to agree to a long-term no strike clause. What Boeing was upset about was that the IAM went on strike four times since 1989, and the company claimed it cost them nearly $2 billion in lost revenue.

The NLRB complaint cites the words of a senior Boeing official, who told The Seattle Times that “we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.” The plant, however, had been planned for the past two years, and Boeing has already hired one thousand workers who would not have jobs if the company is prohibited from building in South Carolina. So it comes down to whether the union will stop non-union workers from getting a job and earning a living, in order to force Boeing to build and expand next to the plant that already exists in Puget Sound. And, it turns out that at the Puget Sound factory, Boeing has already hired 2000 more workers since October of 2009, even though they had already announced construction of the Charleston plant!

In fact, that Washington plant not only still exists, but is scheduled to assemble seven planes each month compared to three in the new Charleston facility. Yet the union claims that Boeing is “inherently destructive or the rights guaranteed employees” by federal labor law. The union local’s president argued that Boeing was trying “to intimidate our members with the idea that the company would take away their work unless they made concessions at the bargaining table.”

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