Ron Radosh

How the Obama administration is Using Executive Power to Support Union Goals:What The NLRB's Recent Complaint Reveals

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.”

But in fact, what the NLRB is doing is using a labor grievance as an excuse to interfere with a corporation’s right to build plants were it wants, and a Boeing executive is correct when he says that the NLRB complaint is “legally frivolous and represents a radical departure from both NLRB and Supreme Court precedent.”  A corporation certainly has the right to consider whether or not strikes will occur that interfere with production, when making a decision where to operate. Since Boeing is not closing the Washington plant, and is actually hiring more workers there, it is hardly a case of workers losing jobs when a new plant is built elsewhere.

Indeed, it marks a new departure in the corporatist and statist policy of the Obama administration. For the first time, a government board dominated by pro-union appointees is being empowered to tell a private corporation where to build a new factory. The NLRB decision, as an editorial in The Examiner points out, violated the existing Boeing agreement with the IAM that allows the firm to build in other areas.

Boeing must have been stunned at the NLRB’s complaint. The truth is, as Timothy P. Carney writes, the Obama administration has actually subsidized Boeing with $15 billion in loan guarantees the past two years! The corporation is a defense industry standard-bearer, which has relied over the years on the support of big government, and has itself delivered major campaign contributions to the Obama campaign during the 2008 race. John Podesta’s firm  was itself a lobbyist for the company, as were other Democratic Party representatives, including Obama fundraiser Tony Podesta.

Evidently the money given by the government to Boeing in contracts, Export-Import Bank loans and the like is not as valuable to the administration now as using its power to placate the AFL-CIO and the IAM, which gives almost all of its contributions to Democrats, and hardly any to Republicans. A new election is looming, and the administration needs those union workers to get out the vote, man the phone banks and take to the streets in the forthcoming campaign. If labor feels betrayed, and does not get its troops out as it did in 2008, the Republicans could well win the election, no matter whom they finally choose as a candidate.

So no matter that Boeing has benefited mightily in the past from government support and backing. They are about to learn that what government gives, it can take away at a moment’s notice. Now, the administration has decided it is labor’s turn to benefit from the corporate state, and the company be damned. How Boeing must miss the days when Henry “Scoop” Jackson was senator, and managed to be supported by both organized labor and Boeing.

It’s no secret why Boeing now wants to open a new plant in another state, one more friendly to business and in which the chance of strikes would be slim. What corporation executive wouldn’t want to move in that direction, especially since frequent strikes severely hurt the bottom line? A union supporter might bemoan this reality, but to prevent a firm from doing what is in its best economic interest by government edict tips labor-management relations completely to the union leader’s side, giving them an undue amount of power solely at the behest of government bureaucrats.

The real question, as columnist Kathleen Parker puts it, “is whether unions should be allowed essentially to veto where a company locates and conducts business.” The answer is no, they should not be so allowed. If they are given this as a new right, it is simply one more grand departure from the NLRB’s original mandate, and is far removed from modifying the law so that unions can be legal and workers can freely join them if they so choose.

So, the defeat of the union movement’s plan in this new campaign would be a victory for the national interest. The IAM’s goals, now backed by the NLRB complaint, are a major example of how the administration is seeking to gain leftist goals by executive fiat, rather than through collective bargaining agreements between management and labor in the private sector, where no government compulsion exists.

Once again, the AFL-CIO reveal that they too are now moribund reactionary institutions seeking to push America back from economic growth and advance. The people’s interests demand the defeat of union power.