Epstein on NLRB's Charges Against Boeing

Senseless in Seattle
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
April 26, 2011

It has long been an open secret that the Obama administration regards itself as an eager and reliable ally of organized labor: whatever labor wants, labor gets. Nowhere is that fealty more evident than in the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") decision to file unfair labor charges on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union against the Boeing Company. Why? Boeing had the audacity to invest $2 billion in a new South Carolina facility where it would assemble its 787 Dreamliner---a job that Boeing assigned to 1000 non-union workers starting this coming July.

Acting NLRB General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, wants that work to be brought back to Washington state and the Portland, Oregon area, where Boeing has its current Dreamliner facilities. According to Solomon, "[a] worker's right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act. We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law." But it is the boundary line between an employer’s unfair labor practice and its own legitimate economic interest that Solomon badly misunderstands.

The gist of the government’s case is this: in deciding to locate the production facility in South Carolina, Boeing executives engaged in "coercive" speech, with the intention of discouraging future union strikes and of retaliating against its west coast workforce. After all, the Boeing executives cited past union strikes, and the possibility of future ones, when they announced their decision to open the South Carolina production facility.

Faculty: 
Richard A. Epstein