Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NLRB vs Boeing

First, I would like to point out I am not expert on National Labor laws and this piece is purely my review of the issue and my opinion based on both statements made by the backers of Boeing and the National Labor Relation Board's actual full complaint.

First some background on the issue at hand. Boeing, one of the largest aerospace companies in the world, has traditionally built its airliners in the state of Washington. However recently they began to construct a secondary production line for their fastest selling aircraft the Boeing 787 in Charleston, South Carolina.

Another part of this issue is so-called "Right to Work" states. These states (including my home state of Iowa) allows workers to not be members of a Union should they choose not to, putting it rather simply. South Carolina is such a state while Washington is a union labor state.

What started this is that the workers unions that operate at Boeing's production facilities in Oregon accused Boeing to building the secondary production line in a non-union state in retaliation for previous strikes by union workers in recent years (two strikes in the last five years).

Boeing on the other hand has stated their opening of another production plant had more to do with keeping up with production orders (over 800 Boeing 787s on order currently) and had not only added the thousands of new jobs that the Charleston plant still under construction (nearly completed) but was also adding jobs in Washington as well.

However, statements made by Boeing officials have raised suspicion about their true intentions to set up a new production line in S. Carolina. Here is a quote from a senior Boeing official taken from the Seattle Times newspaper:

"The overriding factor (in transferring the line) 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."

Now at issue is a section of the National Labor Relations Act, Section 8(a) that states:
"It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer—
(1) to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7;
(3) by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization"

Now, the Supreme Court and the NLRB have in the past ruled that employers can make public statements that raising the possibility of unionization, and the possibility of future strikes might harm relations with customers. However the two bodies have ruled that employers can not predict any such harm in customers without any factual basis.

As such, the Boeing official's statements that the move to S.Carolina was not necessarily business related as it was that setting up a production line there would be less harmful to their bottom line since the threat of future strikes does not exist there as it does in Oregon.

Now whether this statement is a violation of the particular section of the National Labor Relations Act I am not certain. While I did take my fair share of "Legal Eagle" classes in college, this one is a bit out of my league to make a legal opinion.

However I will comment on what politicians have made of this debate so far. The GOP has largely sided with Boeing and stating that the NLRB is trying to shut down the plant in S.Carolina and deprive the good people of that state of thousands of jobs. They also accuse the President of supporting the NLRB's actions to appease his union base. For the record the President has made no comments on the issue other than through the Press Secretary who stated the issues was that of an independent agency outside of the President's control.

Now firstly, I have found no evidence the NLRB wishes Boeing to not open their plant in S.Carolina and have currently made no decision on the subject. They have for the moment taken the complaint of the union workers and have referred the issue to the full board for a decision or mediation. Should the NLRB find against Boeing, they could then take it up with the US Supreme Court.

When it comes to how much control the President has in this situation, he is right that he has no direct control of the NLRB. His only power over them is he gets to pick their members which then have to be approved by the Senate (which the GOP are threatening to block should they come up). However he does have some unofficial influence as all President's do over such agencies and indeed his inaction could be seen by American labor unions as a victory.

Regardless of the politics surrounding this issue, the opening of a new plant for the Boeing 787 is a good thing for the nation and as such I hope the two parties can come to some sort of accord and not create a long and protracted legal battle that will put thousands of much needed manufacturing jobs in limbo over some confusing legal wording. Let's hope for the best.

For reference here is the actual NLRB Complaint factsheet detailing the complaint, the sections under review and previous legal rulings on the subject.


  1. Rather than post a wall of text in response I decided to create a Facebook note. You can find it here:

  2. Pretty gross overstep for the NLRB. If they have the power to stop a company from deciding where to build or expand a plant based on the difference in state laws, that's too far beyond the pale.

    Solomon Kleinsmith
    Rise of the Center

  3. Firstly, I have edited the most post to correct any error I made. The main production plant is in Washington state not Oregon.


    Under the right circumstances, the NLRB power to do such a thing is protected by the Supreme Court (see the case listed in the NLRB factsheet).

    However those circumstances are if the company in question is restricting or discriminating against its union workers. Now this can take alot of forms. What the union workers in Washington state are accusing Boeing of is opening a new plant in S.Caroline solely because of it's non-union stance (which is not technically wrong) and because statements made by Boeing officials seem to reinforce that.

    However as Boeing has pointed out, it's not like they are closing the plant in Washington to favor this new one, in fact they plan to add many new jobs in Washington state as well as open this new plant. That and Boeing does need a second production line to keep up with the orders of the Boeing 787.

    However even if this dispute isn't resolved, it will likely come before the US Supreme Court and I am fairly certain they will rule in favor of Boeing. That's just my personal opinion of course.