Carl Horowitz
The National Labor Relations Board – these days known by many of its critics as the National Organized Labor Relations Board – must have a pretty broad definition of the words “coercion” and “retaliation.” And should it prevail in court, the result will be less freedom for employers and employees across the nation.

On April 20, the board filed a 10-page complaint against Boeing alleging the company’s decision in 2009 to locate its second assembly plant in South Carolina represented illegal retaliation against employees belonging to the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAM). As a remedy, the NLRB is seeking a judicial order for the company to shift all production of its planned 787 Dreamliner commercial jet to its main facility in Washington State. The IAM, predictably, is delighted. Equally to the point, Boeing and South Carolina officials are furious. That South Carolina, unlike Washington, is a Right to Work state has more than a little to do with the unfolding drama.

Back on March 26, 2010, the Machinists filed a complaint against Boeing with the National Labor Relations Board. The union claimed the Chicago-based company, in moving its final assembly plant for its 787 Dreamliner wide-body, twin-engine jet aircraft to a facility near Charleston, South Carolina, illegally had “retaliated” against the IAM for four separate strikes the union conducted over the course of 1989-2008. Instead of expanding its existing production facility in Everett, Washington, located about 25 miles north of Seattle, Boeing instead chose a site at Charleston Airport near Charleston, S.C.

After conducting an investigation, NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon found “reasonable cause” to believe that the company violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act. First, Solomon concluded, the move was motivated by a desire “to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity.” Second, Boeing officials had made “coercive statements” to union employees relating to the move.

NLRB located apparently incriminating internal documents and news interviews, the latter category including a statement given by Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, to the Seattle Times (March 2, 2010) in which he stated that while Washington State remained his “preferred location” for building commercial aircraft, he would view South Carolina as a better alternative unless the union “moderates its future wage demands and avoids strikes.” Albaugh stated: “The overriding factor was not the business climate. And it was not the wages we are paying today. It was that we can’t afford to have a work stoppage every three years. And we can’t afford to continue the rate of escalation of wages.”

Carl Horowitz

Carl F. Horowitz is director of the Organized Labor Accountability Project of the National Legal and Policy Center, a Gold Partner organization dedicated to promoting ethics in American public life.
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