Boeing and House Republicans abuse their power

House Republicans intend to pass legislation this week to further weaken the National Labor Relations Board and leave it less able to protect workers from anti-union retaliation by companies like Boeing.

Almost everything you’ve read or heard about the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement action against Boeing is wrong. Editorial boards were quick to believe Boeing’s line that the NLRB has abused its authority by ordering the company to shut down its Dreamliner production line in South Carolina and move it back to Washington State. Most of the media seem convinced that the NLRB and President Obama have decided to prevent companies from moving to right to work states as a favor to unions that supported the president. All of this is untrue. In fact:

– The NLRB hasn’t ordered Boeing to do anything. Its General Counsel filed a complaint, but the NLRB members haven’t heard the case or made any decision.  The administrative Law Judge hasn’t even scheduled a hearing.

– The case has nothing to do with right to work laws, and the General Counsel would have filed the same complaint if the company had moved production to Michigan or Massachusetts rather than South Carolina.

– No governmental power has been abused. The NLRB General Counsel is following established precedent. The GC under Ronald Reagan would have handled this case the same way. We know this because, faced with a similar case, the NLRB under Reagan in fact did order an employer (Century Air Freight) to return to the status quo, moving work back to a union plant after the employer broke the law by moving the work out.

– The remedy the General Counsel is seeking allows Boeing to maintain a production line in South Carolina. The NLRB complaint explicitly permits Boeing to move work to South Carolina for non-discriminatory reasons.

The only abuse in this case is the abuse of power by politicians like Rep. Darrell Issa and Speaker of the House John Boehner, who are intervening in an enforcement proceeding on behalf of a powerful corporation that has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to politicians, including Issa and Boehner. Is it any surprise that Boeing’s contributions tipped toward the Republicans this year and now favor them 60% to 40%, according to Open Secrets?

In the past, attempts by elected officials to influence ongoing investigations or enforcement were considered unethical, and politicians like the Keating 5 risked real damage to their careers when they intervened on behalf of campaign contributors. What a difference a few years and Citizens United have made.

In truth, there’s probably one other guilty party: the Boeing Corporation, which apparently intended to teach the Machinists Union a lesson by punishing them for exercising their legal right to strike. Boeing could legally move work to South Carolina for any number of reasons, including because it prefers to operate in a right-to-work state, it wants to find cheaper workers, or because the state gave it tax breaks to move. But it has been illegal for 76 years to move in order to retaliate against employees who chose to strike during their last contract negotiations, and it’s illegal to threaten employees with punishment for striking.

The right to strike is a fundamental human right, protected by the United Nations charter and the National Relations Act. And Boeing knows that. Even so, there’s plenty of evidence to support the NLRB complaint that Boeing violated the law. Now they want not just to avoid liability, but to cripple the NLRB’s ability to protect other workers in the future. And Boeing is so big and so politically connected, and has so much help from the rest of the organized business lobby, it might well succeed.

So don’t be misled. This isn’t a case of big government telling business where it can operate. It’s government of the people, by the people, and for the people defending a fundamental human right and middle-class workers who have nowhere else to turn.