Boeing labor deal sets poor precedent

A key to American prosperity is the freedom of companies to run their operations how they see fit, wherever they decide is best for them. That freedom took a hit this week in a case involving Boeing, the aerospace and defense giant. Although this matter doesn’t directly affect our area, anything that damages the company’s freedom to operate could have national repercussions.

At issue was Boeing’s 2009 decision to build a second assembly plant for its 787 Dreamliner airplane in South Carolina, a state with weak union rules, instead of at the firm’s commercial airplane home base in Washington, a pro-union state. The decision sparked a complaint to the National Labor Relations Board by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union. The complaint charged that Boeing shifted production to the Palmetto State in retaliation for union strikes against Boeing’s Washington facilities.

On Dec. 7, the Machinists approved a new contract with Boeing and requested that its case be canceled by the NLRB. Two days later, the NLRB complied. Aerospace Manufacturing and Design magazine reported, “Under the deal, Boeing promised to build the new version of its 737 airplane in Washington state.”

While this development will bring short-term labor peace, it will produce a “chilling effect” for not just Boeing, but all American industry, Vincent Vernuccio told us; he’s labor policy counsel at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank. “The NLRB dropped the complaint only after Boeing settled with the Machinists’ union. Employers will see it as upholding a veto power for unions” over corporate decisions. “It’s an extremely bad precedent of using the NLRB.”

He said that unions will be able to say to companies in the future, “If you want this complaint to go away, just settle with us.”

The crux of the problem, Vernuccio said, is that President Barack Obama “has appointed extreme union partisans to the NLRB. It has consistently, and in many cases unfairly, sided with unions over employers.” He added that the next Republican administration, whenever that occurs, should appoint impartial members to the board.

Better yet, he said, the NLRB should be split up and its regulatory powers shifted to the Justice and Labor departments. If that happened, labor complaints would not be handled by a partisan board, but would go through the normal federal judicial process, allowing companies their day in court.

A bill that would do exactly that is the National Labor Relations Reorganization Act, sponsored by Rep. Trey Gowdy, a Republican who, not surprisingly, hails from South Carolina. We urge New Mexico representatives to support it.

As the economic doldrums continue to plague our country, the last thing we need is an anti-business NLRB meddling in private decisions and killing jobs.