The NLRB Dropping Its Boeing Case Is A Victory For Collective Bargaining, Not Conservatives

The National Labor Relations Board today dropped a complaint against mega-manufacturer Boeing that had been used as a political football by Republicans for months. Of course, the GOP rushed forward to hail this as some sort of win for conservatism.

2012 GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich called it “a victory for South Carolina and all right-to-work states,” while Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said it is “a victory for American manufacturers, workers and the cause of job creation.”

Ever since the NLRB first filed the complaint, the GOP has mischaracterized it as having something to do with so-called “right-to-work” states, states where workers are allowed to free-ride on union contracts. However, the actual complaint was about whether or not Boeing moved a production line from Washington to South Carolina in retaliation against workers for striking.

It is illegal to shift production in order to retaliate against workers, and Boeing executives, on-tape, pretty clearly said that their motive for moving to South Carolina was to do just that. As Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wrote, “there is ample precedent for the argument that threatening to move facilities because of strikes is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act. And certainly the NLRB might reasonably have taken a Boeing executive at his word when he told the Seattle Times (on video!) that this was precisely what motivated the relocation.”

However, Boeing and its workers this week completed a new contract, in which the company agreed to build a new line of airplanes in Washington:

About 74 percent supported the contract on Wednesday in a ballot among 31,000 union members, mostly in the Seattle area, who accepted the surprise proposal unveiled last week.

Boeing plans to increase output by 60 percent after four union walkouts since 1989 delayed hundreds of deliveries. Workers were promised that a revamped 737 jet would be built at a current factory near Seattle, and the union requested that the N.L.R.B. retract the complaint filed over a new 787 plant in South Carolina.

The moral of the story is that collective bargaining worked and the workers in Washington will not be unfairly punished by Boeing for exercising their rights. “Both sides were faced with uncertainty and real losses, and the nature of collective bargaining is seizing the moment,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California at Berkeley. “The agreement reached between Boeing and workers in Washington demonstrates that the law that protects workers’ rights is vital to our economy and necessary to enforce,” Rep. George Miller (D-CA) added.

NLRB’s dropping of the complaint doesn’t mean that the initial charge was without merit or that union-busting is any less of a concern. It signals that the workers were able to work through their differences with the company, rendering the complaint unnecessary. Contrary to everything Republicans, at both the federal and state level have been saying for the last two years, collective bargaining is a critical tool to ensure a fair deal for workers, and the case with Boeing reflects that reality.