Americans are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the freest people on Earth. Except that according to the Heritage Foundation’s 2011 Index of Economic Freedom, the United States stands at a dismal 9th in international rankings for economic liberty, embarrassingly behind social democracies like New Zealand (4th) and Canada (6th) and well behind Asian powerhouses Hong Kong and Singapore (first and second, respectively).
It is safe to say that these depressing stats would come as no surprise to the higher-ups at Boeing, who had the temerity to act as if they were a private company operating in a free market when they decided to relocate the company’s 787 Dreamliner assembly from Washington state to a new production facility in South Carolina.This new relationship was poised to be mutually beneficial — South Carolina would get about 1,000 new jobs, Boeing a less regulated, less unionized — read: cheaper — business climate in which to operate.
But it was not to be. In April, Barack Obama’s National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed a complaint against Boeing to block the move and thwart the South Carolina relocation, charging that Boeing’s decision constitutes an unlawful retaliation against the unionized workers of Washington state.
Boeing contends it simply cannot afford the constant work stoppages of the Washington unions (roughly one every three years over the past decade), and no wonder: In 2008 alone, a strike instigated by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) lasted 39 days and accrued roughly 1,053,000 in lost work days for some 27,000 employees in Washington, Oregon, and Kansas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Some analysts have estimated that the shutdown of jet production during the work stoppage cost Boeing more than $2 billion in profits.” Ouch. One can hardly blame the company for looking toward the warmer climes and more attractive labor market of South Carolina, one of the 22 states with so-called “right-to-work” laws forbidding the compulsory unionization of workers.
But the Obama administration has, through the NLRB, sided with the unions, in essence affirming Big Labor’s self-assumed right to blackmail and bankrupt private industry. The decision against Boeing (which the company is set to challenge in a June hearing) is indeed a dark and ominous sign: As Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore poignantly put it in the Wall Street Journal, “It’s the first time a federal agency has intervened to tell an American company where it can and cannot operate a plant within the U.S.” It’s as if a government agent blocked your way while you were fleeing a mugger and ordered you to go back and hand over your wallet.
Of course, Obama is under tremendous pressure to deliver some favors to the unions, who have spent hundreds of millions to put him and other Democrats into power. Having failed to deliver labor’s long-cherished “card check” legislation before last November’s GOP tide swept over Congress, and seeing unions withering under the assault of Republican governors like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and New Jersey’s Chris Christie, the White House undoubtedly felt it had to give its money masters something.
So it has, and only at the expense of liberty, economic growth, and common sense. So much for land of the free.