NLRB has airtight case against Boeing

Republicans are clearly using the National Labor Relations Board complaint against Boeing to launch a bigger, right-wing assault on individual worker rights and collective bargaining.

Here’s why this is the case:

Whether you agree with the NLRB or not, it says Boeing violated one of the laws of the land, the National Labor Relations Act, which has been in place since 1935, The NLRB came to this conclusion after conducting a thorough investigation. After the investigation, it issued a complaint about what it said was a violation of the law by Boeing. A hearing on that complaint was then scheduled. Normal procedure for all concerned would have been to wait for the results of the hearing. (If you don’t agree with the ruling then you can challenge it.)

The GOP did not wait, however. It pre-empted normal legal procedure and rushed the matter to trial in the press and the courts, whipping up a campaign against the NLRB and the Obama administration. This can only mean that, from the beginning, the goal was more than just squashing a specific complaint the board made against Boeing.

Obvious to all now is the fact that Republicans want to weaken, if not destroy the NLRB altogether and, in the process, embarrass and weaken the Obama administration. Less obvious, but equally true, is that their pursuit of this matter is designed to take away the collective bargaining rights of all Americans.

The NLRB’s case against Boeing is quite simple. No one disputes that Boeing workers in the state of Washington engaged in negotiations, a legal strike and other activities that the law protects. Boeing itself never claimed that its workers did anything that was illegal.

After workers engaged in this collective activity, however, Boeing announced that it was moving a substantial part of its assembly work on the company’s new 787 Dreamliner to South Carolina.

Last week the Machinists Union released the “Project Gemini” documents. They are internal documents distributed at a meeting of Boeing executives.

“The Project Gemini” documents prove what we’ve suspected all along, that Boeing moved to South Carolina to punish our members for exercising their union rights,” said Connie Kelleher, a spokesman for the Machinists.

Boeing CEO Jim Albaugh, in an interview with the Seattle Times on March 2, 2010, also clearly stated that the move was retaliatory.

Even worse, under the guise of protecting Boeing’s right to set up shop wherever it wants, the Republicans have proposed legislation that would take away the right of the NLRB to enforce labor law and would change that law so that it would no longer protect workers when companies decide to punish them for legal activity by moving work out of their states.

Boeing and its surrogates in Congress claim that the Federal government is trying to tell a company where to put its work. This is not true. The National Labor Relations Act itself does not restrict the placement of work unless a company does so for an illegal reason. Retaliating against workers because they engage in activity that the law protects is illegal. The NLRB complaint itself states, “The relief requested by the Acting General Counsel does not seek to prohibit Respondent (Boeing) from making non-discriminatory decisions with respect to where work will be performed.”

Republicans say the Obama administration is just giving payback to labor unions. This is also untrue. The protected rights at stake in this case apply to workers regardless of whether they are unionized and regardless of politics. The NLRB is the law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing the rights that Boeing violated. Republicans are trying to get the NLRB to stop doing its job. They are saying, in effect, that big companies do not have to obey the law.

Republicans are also saying that the NLRB’s complaint is a back door attack on states that have right to work (for less) laws. This too is false.

The normal rule under the National Labor Relations Act is that employers and unions may, by agreement, require all employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement to share in the union’s cost of negotiating those improved wages, benefits and protections, by paying union dues or a non-member fee.

The National Labor Relations Act also permits states, by statute, to ban such a cost-sharing requirement. These are right to work (for less) laws, and they allow “free riders,” employees who receive the improvements paid for by their co-workers without contributing themselves.

South Carolina is one of these states.

The NLRB’s complaint has nothing to do with such laws. It seeks to remedy Boeing’s retaliation against its workers in Washington by bringing their work back to Washington. The remedy would be the same wherever Boeing had moved that work. It has no effect on South Carolina’s right to work law whatsoever.

Photo: Right-wing politicians have as their real aim the destruction of union rights whether at the state or national level. PW 



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.