On Wednesday the unelected National Labor Relations Board threatened action against aerospace giant Boeing if the company would not agree to build a new assembly line for the 787 Dreamliner in Washington State, a warning made in direct challenge to the company’s decision last fall to build planes in Charleston, South Carolina.

As Angie Vogt wrote today at RedCounty.com:

The NLRB has moved with an order that seeks to actually prevent Boeing from completing construction of it’s 787 plant in South Carolina, where 1000 hired workers are due to begin working in July and force it to continue doing business with the hostile unions of Washington state. Joe Trauger, a vice president at the National Association of Manufacturers, stated that if the complaint order succeeds,”no company will be safe from the NLRB stepping in to second-guess its business decisions on where to expand or whom to hire,” he said.

Prior to Boeing’s announcement of the South Carolina decision last October, it was the desire of most in the Puget Sound that every one of the company’s newest commercial jet – the sky-dominating, groundbreaking 787 Dreamliner – should be assembled exclusively in the Pacific Northwest. It was therefore a punch to the gut of local aerospace workers and civic leaders when the Boeing Company decided last fall to choose South Carolina as the site of its second 787 production line.

Yet, while many lamented the loss of future jobs—and an ever-weakening claim to the title Jet City—there also seemed to be a bittersweet appreciation for the business reasons underlying the company’s choice. Faced with rising costs of labor in its Washington workforce, perpetual union demands for wage and benefit increases, and fierce price competition from an overseas rival fed by heavy subsidies, Boeing needed to get drastically creative. The South Carolina decision was the result.

Despite the free market realities faced by Boeing, the NLRB in its complaint lashes out, abandoning logic like a spurned lover, alleging that the decision was only a way of retaliating against the victimized unions. In order to save face, the NLRB suggests that the building of a new 787 line in Washington will put a broken house back together again. In reality, it would only create additional burdens on Boeing as it fights to retain its position in the internal market for aircraft putting the company back to square one in its attempt to fend off Airbus.

But the NLRB’s recipe for reconciliation is itself a perverted concept of justice, based on a one-sided presentation of the history of the relationship between Boeing and its labor unions.

It can hardly be argued that Boeing’s decision was not a direct result of rising costs of Washington state labor and heightened frustration with union negotiating tactics, though the company will try to keep a straight face and do so). But to suggest that the manufacturer’s actions were only a matter of retaliation skips past an important fact. In the history between Boeing and organized labor, the machinists unions repeatedly exacted their own manner of pain on their employer. Over the years, strikes have cost the company billions and caused months in accumulated production delays, impacting the bottom line feeding all mouths–stockholders, line workers and executives.

It would be naïve to assume that the NLRB would present a full accounting of that raucous chronicle—they are an unelected, unaccountable, taxpayer-funded advocate for organized labor, not employers or Boeing’s stockholders. Though the President, in theory, represents the interests of all his constituents equally, it’s folly to expect him to bite at his union leash.

It will, therefore, fall then on the shoulders of Washington State’s Congressional delegation to avoid temptation to directly or indirectly support the NLRB’s efforts. Riding shotgun with a do-over on a development that was bad for local communities would be a tacit endorsement of the use of federal power to interfere with the decisions a business makes to ensure its own future.


[photo credit: flickr]

[This article first appeared at Redcounty.com]