Obamaland’s assault on Boeing went from economic tragedy to political farce during a House Oversight Committee field hearing in South Carolina on Friday. Lafe Solomon, acting counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, dropped this gem:
These are difficult economic times, and I truly regret the anxiety this case has caused them and their families. The issuance of the complaint was not intended to harm the workers of South Carolina but rather to protect the rights of workers.
Who cares about intent? If the NLRB gets its way, 1,000 workers at the already completed plant will lose their jobs. Ironically, the NLRB can’t point to anyone who has lost their job as a result of Boeing building a second assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina rather than in the state of Washington. That reality produced this bizarre sequence (via Bloomberg) at the hearing:
“Can you name me a single, solitary worker in Washington state” who lost jobs or benefits? asked Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina. “Where is the retaliation?”
Solomon repeatedly responded that he couldn’t “at this time” provide evidence of such an effect. “We believe evidence will show Boeing was motivated by retaliation,” he said.
Verdict first, evidence later. But when you are waging ideological war to accomplish via regulation what you cannot via legislation … well, whatever gets you through the night, right?
To recall: Boeing opened its $750 million facility in union-resistant South Carolina on June 10, employing some 1,000 workers. It’s a second location for the production of the company’s 787 Dreamliner. Boeing might have built the production line back in Washington, but the local union wouldn’t agree to a lengthy no-strike contract. And the company hasn’t forgotten that a 2008 strike helped put the 787 program over budget and behind schedule.
After the new plant was built, the NLRB said the move was retaliatory and the line should be moved to Washington. That smacks of overreach. The pertinent law would seem to bar punitive actions by company bosses against union activists. That’s not the situation here. Boeing decided to open a new plant in a state where it was given financial incentives, labor is cheaper and work stoppages are less likely. Again, there’s no evidence any worker in Seattle lost a job. A previous 787 assembly line remains there, and the company claims to have added some 2,000 workers to that facility.
That suggests the move was a rational business decision that didn’t shortchange anyone already working at Boeing. So it’s hard to see how the union’s objection can really hold water. But the legal fight will probably be lengthy and may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. And if Boeing were to lose, remedying the situation could get expensive.
But there are much broader implications. The NLRB’s fight comes amid a political debate about unions and the threat from anti-union or so-called “right to work” states. If it turns out a union can block a business decision even when there’s no harm to its members, that could easily deter needed manufacturing investment in America, whether by homegrown or foreign-owned companies.
Team Obama thinks little of the idea that “uncertainty” created by its tax, spending and regulatory policies has created an anemic recovery. But if an American business cannot even rely on the law to protect its fundamental economic right to open a plant in its state of choice, then it really cannot be certain of much.