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Recently, the Boeing Corporation announced plans to build a $1 billion commercial jet production plant in South Carolina.
With the national unemployment rate at 9%, and manufacturing jobs leaving America in droves, it's certainly good news that Boeing is building it's new plant right here in the good old USA, eh ?
While it may sound like good news to most of us, the Obama administration objects. Obama's National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has sued Boeing to prevent the plant from being built in South Carolina. The NLRB is accusing Boeing of unfair labor practices. The NLRB is accusing Boeing of union-busting. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the NLRB, it is a branch of the federal government whose board members are all appointed by the President. Three of the four current NLRB board members are Democrats. The stated purpose of the NLRB is to protect employee rights, which includes the right of workers to collectively bargain, as outlined in the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (Note to Democrats in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana - the National Labor Relations Act specifically excluded federal, state, and local government employees from collective bargaining rights. It only applies to private sector workers).
The NLRB demands that Boeing build it's new plant in Washington state instead of South Carolina. The reason is, South Carolina is one of 22 right-to-work states, while Washington is not. In right-to-work states, workers cannot be forced to join a union and pay union dues as a condition of their employment. Needless to say, forced unionism is exactly what the unions want, ergo the complaint against Boeing.
I have a few observations. First of all, aside from the union vs. right-to-work issue, I have a problem when our own government opposes an American company that wants to produce jobs and manufacture products in this country. Isn't job creation supposed to be what we are encouraging ? Second, why should the government have the potential to compel a private corporation to do business in one state over another ? I thought this was supposed to be the land of the free, the UNITED States, not the land of political friends and enemies. Third, there is no statute prohibiting collective bargaining or the creation of unions in right-to-work states. Workers are free to unionize if they wish, or not unionize. It's the worker's choice. I don't see a big problem there, but in the interest of fairness, here is the argument for and against right-to-work laws, via Wikipedia:
Proponents of right-to-work laws point to the Constitutional right to freedom of association, as well as the common-law principle of private ownership of property. They argue that workers should be free both to join unions and to refrain from joining unions, and for this reason sometimes refer to non-right-to-work states as "forced unionism" states. They contend that it is wrong for unions to be able to agree with employers to include clauses in their union contracts (also known as a union security agreement) which require all employees to either join the union, or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Furthermore, they contend that in certain cases forced union dues are used to support political causes, causes which some union members may oppose.
Opponents argue right-to-work laws create a free-rider problem, in which non-union employees (who are bound by the terms of the union contract even though they are not members of the union) benefit from collective bargaining without paying union dues.
Opponents further argue that because unions are weakened by these laws, wages are lowered and worker safety and health is endangered. For these reasons, they often refer to right-to-work states as "right to work for less" states or "right-to-fire" states, and "non-right-to-work" states as "free collective bargaining" states. They also cite statistics from the United States Department of Labor showing, for example, that, in 2003, states with right-to-work laws in general had a higher rate of workplace fatalities per 100,000 workers.
The Libertarian in me is persuaded by the freedom of assocation argument of the right-to-work supporters, but I also acknowledge the important role private sector unions have played in the past in securing rights and decent wages for American workers. That is no small thing, and it's also Libertarian to allow private sector workers to unionize (or not) as they see fit. In the end, it's that choice that is essential, and in the end, if workers in right-to-work states are being abused, they CAN still unionize. It's up to them. As long as that choice remains in place, I side with the right-to-work people.
Many Republicans, especially those from South Carolina, are taking issue with the NLRB's action against Boeing. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called it "nothing less than a direct assault on the 22 right-to-work states across America." South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham said, "If successful, the NLRB complaint would allow unions to hold a virtual ‘veto' over business decisions. Left to their own devices, the NLRB would routinely punish Right to Work states that value and promote their pro-business climates." South Carolina Senator Jim Demint said, "This is nothing more than a political favor for the unions who are supporting President Obama's re-election campaign. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of hundreds of jobs in South Carolina and thousands of jobs nationwide."
The International Association of Machinists And Aerospace Workers (IAM) union claims Boeing is building it's new plant in South Carolina in retaliation for past union strikes against Boeing. The NLRB, which is supposed to be an independent agency, is clearly acting as a mouthpiece for union grievances. The NLRB's Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, said Boeing was building it's plant in South Carolina "to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity."
“We hold no animus toward union members, and we have never sought to threaten or punish them for exercising their rights, as the NLRB claims,” Boeing CEO Jim McNerney wrote. “To the contrary, union members are part of our company's fabric and key to our success. About 40% of our 155,000 U.S. employees are represented by unions — a ratio unchanged since 2003. Nor are we making a mass exodus to right-to-work states that forbid compulsory union membership. We have a sizable presence in 34 states; half are unionized and half are right-to-work.”
Boeing received about $900 million in tax breaks and other incentives from South Carolina.
For the sake of argument, let's say the IAM is right, and Boeing is moving to South Carolina to get away from the repeated union strikes. You must remember, Boeing is not a public service organization or a charity. It is a company that has to make a profit to stay in business. Therefore, Boeing acts in the business interests of Boeing, and it's not in Boeing's interests to have it's production halted by union strike after union strike, is it ? Thus, the repeated strikes are actually an INCENTIVE for Boeing to relocate elsewhere. I saw this exact same scenario play out in Akron, Ohio in the 1970's with the rubber shops. They moved production to the south to escape the unions, and Akron ended up high and dry, with nothing. Thanks for nothing, unions. You drove our jobs away, and they were good blue collar jobs. Our city was left a lot worse off because of it. That same scenario is turning parts of Detroit, Michigan into a ghost town today. Sometimes the unions end up being their own worst enemy. Personally, I'd rather have an actual job that pays $20 per hour than a non-existent union job that pays $30 per hour, but that's just me. I like to feed my family, and I can't do that in Akron if my job is in Alabama, or China.
To my knowledge, President Obama hasn't said a word about the Boeing situation, which led Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to wonder aloud whether Obama has an "enemies list". I'd phrase it a bit differently. What I think is, Obama has a friend's list, and Republican-voting right-to-work-states like South Carolina aren't on it. After all, our President is already in 2012 fundraising campaign re-election mode. He's looking to raise a billion dollars and reward his friends. Cronies unite !