The complaint that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued against the Boeing Company on April 20th has touched off a storm of comment and controversy, much of it wrong. We need to get past rhetoric and look at what the case is really about.
In every state in our nation, the law provides important protections for individual workers when they act together to improve their work lives for themselves and their families. The law also says that employers cannot retaliate against workers who engage in protected activities. If retaliation were permitted, there would be no protection.
For many years, Boeing employees in the State of Washington have worked through their union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, to improve their work lives at the company — all while helping Boeing prosper by building the best commercial airliners in the world. Equally undisputed is that such activity was protected by law. So when Boeing itself announced that legally protected activities of its workers were the principal reason for moving a substantial portion of the company’s 787 Dreamliner assembly to South Carolina, the company committed unlawful retaliation. The case is that simple.
Some commentators cry that the government is trying to tell a company where to put work. Boeing did not violate the law simply by moving 787 assembly. The violation was doing so in response to actions by its employees that the law protects. As the NLRB complaint states, “the relief requested by the Acting General Counsel does not seek to prohibit Respondent from making non-discriminatory decisions with respect to where work will be performed…”
Commentators also cry that this case is just a Democratic administration favoring labor. But the rights at stake in this case belong to workers in every state, regardless of their politics and even regardless of whether they are unionized. The NLRB is the law enforcement agency that is supposed to enforce the laws that Boeing broke. Do big companies not have to follow the rule of law?
Sadly, there are also commentators who are trying to recast the NLRB’s complaint as pitting northern states against southern ones. Retaliation against workers for exercising protected rights is as unlawful in South Carolina as it is in Washington. The NLRB should enforce the law whenever and wherever retaliation against workers takes place.
We in the Machinists are proud to fight for our members at Boeing. We are just as proud to fight every day for our members who work in South Carolina and all across the South. We want Boeing and every other company that employs our members to prosper in the global economy, because that means jobs for our members and economic strength for America. But when any company violates legal protections for workers, the rule of law says there should be consequences.
Boeing’s actions are properly before the NLRB, which should decide the case according to the law. The rhetoric should quiet down.