When Boeing Co. two years ago announced plans to open a plant in South Carolina to assemble many of its 787 Dreamliner commercial jets, the decision triggered an outcry by the International Association of Machinists. The IAM's unofficial partner, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), filed a complaint against the company this April to block its opening of the facility, located in a Right to Work state. Last Friday, December 9, the board dropped its action. With the plant up and running for a half year, Boeing won a "victory" -- so says CNN. Or did it?
The decision last month by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to side with a union trying to block Boeing Co. from operating in South Carolina has entered a new stage: the U.S. Senate. And the implications extend far beyond South Carolina. Last week, on May 12, Senators Jim DeMint, R-S.C., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., introduced a bill, the Job Protection Act (S. 964), to bar the board from overriding an employer's decision to site a facility in a particular state. The measure, which has at least 34 co-sponsors, is a rebuke to NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon's complaint against Boeing on April 20 that the company had acted unfairly against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) in opening a facility near Charleston, S.C. to build its planned "787 Dreamliner" jet.
The National Labor Relations Board must have a broad definition of "coercion" when it comes to employers. With unions, the standard seems a lot narrower. On April 20, the board filed a 10-page complaint (see pdf) 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).
Labor leaders enjoyed a number of triumphs during the 111th (2009-10) Congress. But they are seething over the fact that a Republican Senate minority once again managed to block proposed legislation to force private-sector nonunion employers to recognize a union as a collective bargaining agent if that union persuades a majority of affected workers to sign a card indicating a desire to join. For them, this "card check" legislation is the Big One that got away, especially in a time of continued declining union membership. Given last November's elections, union officials are even less enthusiastic about their prospects in the new Congress. That's why, more than ever, they are turning to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) as a de facto legislative body. And the NLRB, given its current composition, may well deliver, piece by piece.