Unions, the NLRB, and Boeing

By Clive Crook

My column for the Financial Times this week is on the complaint that the National Labor Relations Board has brought against Boeing. The aircraft maker is accused of trying to punish and intimidate the machinists' union by opening a new factory in South Carolina, a right-to-work state. The rationale for the complaint seems very muddled. The law lets Boeing put new plants where it likes, and the firm can cite lower labor costs as a reason--but, according to the complaint, the company can't say that strikes like the ones it has faced in Washington figured in its reasoning. That would be "retaliation". Boeing has hired workers and built a factory in South Carolina. No jobs, it says, have been shed in Washington. Nonetheless the NLRB wants the work moved to Washington.

If absurdist comedy is to your taste, the board's fact sheet on the case is worth reading. "The Board has repeatedly held that an employer violates [the National Labor Relations Act of 1935] by threatening that employees will lose their jobs if they join a strike, or by predicting a loss of business and jobs because of unionisation or strike disruptions without any factual basis. In contrast, the Board has found that employers may lawfully relate concerns raised by customers. They may also reference the possibility that unionisation, including strikes, might harm relationships with consumers, as opposed to predicting 'unavoidable consequences' [emphasis in original]."

Got that? Employers may "reference the possibility" that strikes will harm the business. But if they declare that this will happen - if they judge it to be unavoidable, and dare to say so - they have broken the law. You may wish to reference the possibility that, if the NLRB is interpreting it correctly, the law in this instance is an ass.

What am I missing? This intervention seems crazy.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/06/unions-the-nlrb-and-boeing/239732/