Bottom line: Boeing recklessly broke the law

(The following opinion column appears in today’s edition of the Seattle Times.)

By Jeff Johnson

The National Labor Relations Board complaint against Boeing has caused quite a stir. According to the NLRB charge, Boeing chose to set up its second 787 production line in North Charleston, S.C., in retaliation against the Machinists’ Union because of repeated strikes against the company and the possibility the union could go on strike again.

On April 24, The Seattle Times editorialized against the NLRB action [“Feds shouldn’t reverse Boeing’s S.C. decision”] claiming both the union and the company are grown-ups and both know their rights. According to The Times, the union has a right to strike and the company has the right to build production facilities anywhere it wants within the confines of the law.

Both sides do have rights, but only one side, Boeing, violated the law. Boeing committed an unfair labor practice — not by putting its factory in South Carolina, a right-to-work state; it broke the law when it made it clear to employees it was relocating because of strikes. This action created a chilling effect on its employees as well as the state of Washington.

The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO applauds the NLRB general counsel’s decision. The NLRB is simply doing its job, defending the rights of workers to collectively bargain and to act in concerted activity. Were Boeing’s actions to go unchecked, companies would be free to coerce and intimidate workers, their unions and states into deals that primarily profit the company. This would make a mockery of the fundamental human right of workers to stand together in order to balance out the power of corporations.

Yet instead of simply having its day in court, Boeing is trying to use its tremendous political clout to stop the actions of this independent federal law-enforcement agency. It is trying to win politically because it cannot win its case in a court.

The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, IAM, SPEEA and the many other unions that represent workers at Boeing want the company to expand production in Washington state. We want to design and produce the 787 and the next generation of 737s here. We have the most skilled machinists and engineers, the best aerospace apprenticeship program and a great public infrastructure to support the aerospace industry. But we want the company to treat its workers and the state fairly and to obey the law.

During the past 10 years we have demonstrated what we can accomplish when we work together. Organized labor has worked with our congressional delegation, Boeing and others to win the Air Force tanker deal. The recent tanker announcement is recognition of the commitment our state, our workers and our unions have made to Boeing and the aerospace industry. What we expect from the company is a commitment to locate design and production work in Washington state. We expect Boeing to stop the coercive work and political threats that continue to harm our state’s economic security.

The National Labor Relations Board issued the complaint against Boeing after a careful investigation, providing Boeing with every opportunity to defend itself. It even granted Boeing’s numerous requests for delay. In the end, the Board decided it was compelled to act in the face of Boeing’s admission that its move was motivated by its desire to avoid lawful collective bargaining.

Boeing claims that no current employees in the Puget Sound have been harmed by moving work to the second line and that employment in Washington state has increased. The truth is, every job on the unlawful second line in South Carolina displaces good middle-class, union jobs in Washington, and our communities and the state lose desperately needed revenue and economic activity.

Boeing admitted to retaliating against the union and in so doing made an illegal transfer of work. Rather than blaming the NLRB for doing its job, we should all be asking why Boeing proceeded so recklessly with so much at stake. Boeing, grow up and face your responsibilities.

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.

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