President should rein in head of National Labor Relations Board
A $750 million plant in South Carolina, as big as 12 football fields, for the time being won’t turn out a single airplane. At the moment, not a single job will be created by Boeing, the company that built it, and the company that wants to ultimately employ as many as 5,000 highly paid workers at the plant and turn out up to 10 Boeing 787 Dreamliners a month.
The federal government this summer filed a suit to stop Boeing from creating those jobs. That’s the same federal government that claims it’s doing everything it can to reduce the 9 percent-plus unemployment rate that’s been the bane of The Great Recession of 2008.
President Obama may say there’s nothing he can do, since the complaint was filed by the National Labor Relations Board, and that’s an independent agency. But he can’t say that with a straight face.
A little background is in order.
Boeing is three years behind schedule on the Dreamliner. More than 800 of the next generation passenger jets are on order, worth more than $150 billion. Boeing had wanted to produce all of them in Washington, where it still produces most of its aviation products, but it couldn’t get unions to agree to a non-strike clause in their contract.
This is important: Boeing did not cut a single job in Washington, nor did it slash any wages or benefits. In fact, it added jobs in Seattle. But it opted to build the Dreamliner plant in a right-to-work state. Everyone was a winner. South Carolina would get 5,000 good jobs and a good corporate citizen. Boeing would start to catch up on its back orders. Five-thousand Americans would get good jobs.
Boeing had made what just about anyone would consider a sound business decision.
Anyone, that is, except one Wilma Liebman, the chairwoman of the NLRB. That’s a position to which she was appointed by President Obama on Jan. 20, 2009, the very day Obama himself was inaugurated.
The National Labor Relations Act prohibits companies from making decisions that are retaliatory in nature. It would violate the NLRA, for example, if Boeing were to close the Seattle Dreamliner production line and move it to South Carolina because of a strike in Seattle.
But in this case, there was no strike and, in fact, Boeing hired more workers in Seattle. This case has labor lawyers scratching their heads, wondering where the NLRB is headed. It’s a unique reading of the law, and most agree it’s driven by Liebman, who would like nothing more than to punish right-to-work states.
She has a long history of union activism. Before her elevation to chairwoman, she served as a member of the NLRB under Presidents Bush and Clinton. She was often in the minority, and was particularly vocal in her support of big labor in several ballot questions earlier this year. Constitutional amendments that would guarantee the right to a secret ballot in union elections overwhelmingly passed in Arizona, Utah, South Dakota and South Carolina. The NLRB, under Liebman’s gavel, and big labor opposed all of those measures.
The president is more than a little disingenuous when he says there is nothing he can do.
Let’s back up. There certainly was something he could have done. He could have made a better appointment. He could have appointed someone with more centrist leanings. Failing that, he is still the president. He still has the ability to summon just about anyone he wants to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, which just may be the mother of all woodsheds.
If all else fails, he can ask for a resignation.
All of that may seem extreme. But the recession we just went through, and maybe are still going through, is extreme. Everyone agrees unemployment is the biggest problem we’re facing.
The president can be as pro-labor as he wants. But unless he does something about a National Labor Relations Board that is out of control, he can’t say he’s doing everything he can to create jobs for Americans.