The National Labor Relations Board last week filed a complaint against the airplane manufacturer Boeing, noting that, according to public pronouncements by the company’s officials, the construction of a new plant in South Carolina was intended as retribution against workers in Washington who have engaged in a pair of strikes over the last six years. One senior Boeing official, for instance, said during an interview, “The overriding factor [in moving to South Carolina] was not the business climate. And it was not the wages we’re paying today. It was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years.”
Under national labor law, retaliating against workers for striking is illegal union-busting, but several Republican lawmakers have attacked the NLRB and the Obama administration for initiating the complaint. “This is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama’s re-election campaign,” said Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC). “The Obama administration is now dictating where companies are allowed to create new jobs,” wrote former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN).
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) took to the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page today to decry the NLRB’s decision, saying that it circumvents capitalism and falsely claiming that the NLRB “wants Boeing to produce the planes only in Washington state“:
In choosing to manufacture in my state, Boeing was exercising its right as a free enterprise in a free nation to conduct business wherever it believed would best serve both the bottom line and the employees of its company. This is not a novel or complicated idea. It’s called capitalism. [...]
That is apparently too much for President Obama and his union-beholden appointees at the National Labor Relations Board, who have asked the courts to intervene and force Boeing to stop production in South Carolina. The NLRB wants Boeing to produce the planes only in Washington state, where its workers must belong to the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
As the Washington Post’s Steve Pearlstein wrote, “given the public statements of Boeing officials, there is nothing radical about the NLRB’s decision”; the NLRB is simply trying to enforce worker protections that are already law. And, contrary to Haley’s pronouncement, the NLRB made clear that “The complaint does not seek closure of the South Carolina facility, nor does it prohibit Boeing from assembling planes there.”
Haley also neglects to mention that South Carolina gave Boeing nearly $1 billion to open its plant in South Carolina (even as Boeing systemically dodges taxes). Nor is this Haley’s first foray into union-busting; she named a union-busting attorney to head South Carolina’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation for the express purpose of preventing unions from trying to unionize Boeing’s South Carolina plant. Boeing donated to both Haley’s election campaign and her inaugural gala.
The laws that the NLRB is seeking to enforce are necessary to ensure that corporations can’t threaten to move production and fire workers who exercise their right to organize. Haley’s view — and that of the rest of the Republicans attacking Obama and the NLRB — is that corporations should be allowed to ignore the law and workers’ rights if it will increase their profits.