In another example of disaster capitalism, the Boeing company decided in 2009, at the height of the devastating loss of jobs in this country, to build a new plant to produce the “Dreamliner” aircraft. That sounds like it should be good news, no? Well, according to the NLRB, it was a union-busting move.
Instead of building the plant in Washington State where most of the Boeing aircrafts have been built for decades, Boeing decided to locate its new plant in South Carolina. SC is a so-called “right to work” state with not much labor movement to speak of. Which allows Boeing to hire non-union employees to staff the plant.
The crux of this dispute: Was Boeing’s decision just a case of the company building a plant where they are assured there will be less union activity, and thus less chance that strikes that would delay the production of the 787’s? Or was it done to weaken the power of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the union representing 25,000 Boeing workers?
This lead to a dispute before the National Labor Relations Board, and now the Board is bringing suit against Boeing for unfair labor practices.
Catherine Fisk, a law professor at the University of California at Irvine, said the Boeing case is similar to a string of NLRB actions going back decades in which the labor agency charged companies with shifting jobs from union to non-organized workers.
“The heart of the NLRB case (against Boeing) is that opening the South Carolina plant was done for purposes of intimidating the Washington employees from striking again or from being unduly aggressive in their wage demands,” Fisk said
Boeing claims that the IAMAW would not give them enough of a guaranty that they would not strike to make it worth the company’s while to keep production in Washington. This falls flat when you learn that the Union offered a 11-year guaranty that they would not strike. Boeing was holding out for a 20-year guaranty.
Think about that for a second. Boeing is saying it had to do this for business reasons because they big bad Union was only willing to give up its primary leverage with management for more than a decade, but not the two decades that Boeing wanted. Unions are allowed under federal law to bargain away the right to strike, but to me it is never a good idea. Even when the Union was willing to take this very bad path (after all at the time the economy was shedding jobs at close to ¾ of a million a month) it was not enough for the managers are the aircraft company.
Unfortunately these things take forever to resolve. In the two years since the compliant was filed, Boeing has built its plant and is now training non-union workers to start up production. Since this case will go to court and can be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, it could be several more years before it is finally decided. During that time Boeing will be able to build its planes and hold a stick over the head of the IAMAW. After all if they strike, well, Boeing could move more of its manufacturing to this new plant.
Of course there is a political dimension to all of this. South Carolina Senator and second runner up for the worlds biggest jackass (okay I made that last part up) Jim DeMint has decided that he is also going to try to intimidate the unions and the Obama administration over this. After all, there was the anti-union windfall of the criminal Bush administration and we can’t have the NLRB going back to actually doing its job.
Sen. DeMint has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the NLRB for any documents showing communication between the Obama Administration or IAMAW and the NLRB. His even makes an accusation, from another McClatchy article on the subject:
“Local 751 (of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) would appear to be openly engaged in a pay-to-play system of political influence,” DeMint wrote in a letter to NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon. “The question is unavoidable: Did Local 751′s political activities or campaign contributions ‘gain access to officials’ at the NLRB?”
This is a bullshit grandstanding move. Of course there are communications between the Labor Board and the Union, there has to be, the Union filed the complaint in the first place. The place they have to file such a complaint is the NLRB. This idea that because the Union gave a lot of money (1.9 million) to Democratic politicians and campaigns is nothing sinister. After all, is there any support for Organized Labor in the Republican Party? The rampant attempts at union busting in Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Ohio by Republican Governors shows just who is on the side of Labor, which is why the Democrats get contributions from Unions far more than Republicans.
The use of FOIA requests to intimidate political opponents seems to be all the rage with conservatives these days, who fought tooth and nail against any kind of transparency during the Bush administration.
There is no smoking gun here, but that is not what Sen. DeMint is looking for anyway. It is just one more way to put a negative impression of Labor and Democrats out there in the world. You know the evil socialist Unions who want to make sure that workers share in the benefits of a company that makes billions in government contracts. Those bastards!
Expect to see this case get more press and be the subject of Fox “News” and other conservative thought outlets “day of rage” reporting. Even though it will be years before Boeing has to do anything to remedy this (if they ever have to), this kind of legal and appropriate action by the NLRB will be painted as more “job killing regulation” by the Obama Administration.
The floor is yours.