South Carolina: Ground Zero for the GOP Candidates' Assault on Working Americans' Rights
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Boeing: Do Big Companies Have to Follow the Law?
The NLRB case of the century was the Labor Board’s investigation of Boeing, the aerospace giant, for illegally retaliating against union members for going on strike. If you’ve been getting your news from Fox News, or many of its “mainstream” competitors, you’ve heard this was the case where the NLRB tried to punish South Carolina for passing a “Right to Work” law years ago. Newt Gingrich charged on Meet the Press that the NLRB was “basically breaking the law to try to punish Boeing and to threaten every right to work state.” In reality, the case was about punishment of workers in Puget Sound, Washington, not of voters in South Carolina.
In 2009, following the fourth strike in two decades, Boeing executives announced that, for the first time, the company would build a new line of airplanes at a new facility in South Carolina rather than at its existing plant in Puget Sound. Suspicious as that timing alone may be, if the story had ended there, there’s little doubt that Boeing would have gotten away with it. But executives came out and said – repeatedly, and on tape – that the strikes were their reason for rejecting Puget Sound for the additional work. When I met with Puget Sound workers last summer, they were divided over whether the company’s comments were a screw-up (accidentally admitting to a crime) or a screw-you (intentionally emphasizing to workers who’s the boss). Either way, says University of Texas law professor Julius Getman, Boeing “basically announced that they had performed an unfair labor practice” by denying employees the new work because they had gone on strike.
Their union, the International Association of Machinists (IAM) brought charges against Boeing. After a year-long investigation, the NLRB’s General Counsel (the Board’s top prosecutor), filed the equivalent of an indictment (a “complaint”) against the company, sparking Republican fury. The legal basis of the case was unremarkable, but unlike most NLRB cases it could have ended in a truly costly remedy for the company: being required to build a line of airplanes back in Puget Sound. Republican presidential candidates seized on the chance to curry favor in South Carolina and charge Obama with conspiring with big government against the “Right to Work” state. Their GOP colleagues in the House of Representatives demanded that the General Counsel testify before them about the case and turn over internal documents related his legal strategy. They passed a bill that would amend the Wagner Act so that a company that transferred work to a new location could never be required by the NLRB to send the work back – even if the NLRB found that the company had moved the work as an anti-union tactic. And they threatened to eliminate the NLRB’s funding over the case.
Before the case could reach the full NLRB, the General Counsel dropped the case at the request of the IAM, which had reached a deal to keep some future work in Puget Sound as part of a new contract agreement with Boeing. But as Republicans have been showing on the campaign trail, they don’t plan to stop flogging this one any time soon.
New Election Rules: How Long Should You Get to Terrorize Your Employees?
While most of the NLRB’s caseload, like the Boeing case, consists of applying existing law, that’s not usually how it makes headlines. When the NLRB is in the news, it’s usually for changing the rules – either through issuing precedent-setting decisions (like the Supreme Court does), or directly issuing or amending rules (like the EPA does). Last year the NLRB made a modest change to the rules governing the elections held to win union recognition – and once again, all hell broke loose.