Steve Chapman

No, you are not hallucinating. If the NLRB succeeds, a federal official will command a private corporation it may not produce in one place and must produce in another. Never mind what makes business sense.

This is a radical departure for the agency. "It is highly unusual," noted The New York Times, "for the federal government to seek to reverse a corporate decision as important as the location of a plant."

No kidding. It rests on the premise that this company is obligated to remain hostage to a contentious union. It assumes that government officials are entitled to dictate the choices of people whose capital is at risk. And you wonder why Ayn Rand's novel "Atlas Shrugged" is selling briskly?

Boeing adamantly denies moving production because of strikes or unions. But even if it was doing something so vicious as to protect itself against recurring labor disruptions, it ought to have that right.

William Gould, a Stanford law professor who was appointed to head the NLRB by President Bill Clinton, has his doubts about this complaint. "It's perfectly reasonable for a company to want to avoid strikes," he told me.

In his view, the board's general counsel "is wrong when he says the company can't divert work from a union facility when it can't get a no-strike clause, so long as it offers some other means to resolve differences. I don't infer from that anti-union animus, which is prohibited."

Boeing was merely recognizing economic rationality by locating where it can build planes without the burden of a militant union and frequent strikes. The NLRB may be wrong about some things, but it is right to believe that if the needs of labor unions are to be served, economic rationality will have to take a back seat.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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