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Outside Editorial: NLRB v, Boeing - and jobs

Posted: September 12, 2011 - 12:01am

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

You have to wonder about a federal agency that sticks it to an American manufacturer creating thousands of good-paying jobs inside the nation’s borders instead of overseas.

Fortunately, we hope, you won’t have to wonder about it for long. We suspect the end is near for the brief reign of an overbearing pro-union majority on the National Labor Relations Board. That should help to lift an economy in dire need of job creation. It also should lift Chicago’s Boeing Corp., the manufacturer targeted in an outrageous NLRB complaint earlier this year.

With little fanfare, board Chair Wilma Liebman left the agency after her term expired Aug. 27. President Barack Obama’s recess appointment of another board member, labor lawyer Craig Becker, runs out Dec. 31. Combined with a long-standing vacancy, those departures would leave just two of the board’s five seats occupied. So in the absence of any new appointments — which Republicans have vowed to block — the board will fall short of a quorum.

Good.

Don’t get us wrong, the NLRB has important work to do. It investigates unfair labor practices and monitors union elections. Trouble is, the agency swerved left after the Obama administration stacked the board in favor of unions. Better to temporarily deactivate the board than to keep it going in its current direction.

The board has angered employers by pushing new rules that would make it much easier for workers to form unions. We’ve previously taken note of the agency’s invasive approach to over-regulating social media use in the workplace as well. Just before Liebman’s exit, the NLRB took the legally dubious step of requiring private-sector employers to post notices that inform workers of their right to unionize.

The NLRB’s worst decision, however, is its unprovoked hit-job on Boeing.

The aircraft maker deserved nationwide applause for opening a new 787 Dreamliner assembly plant outside Charleston, S.C. The move ensured that thousands of jobs would stay in the United States for years to come.

Instead of sending a thank-you, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, has brought charges. Boeing executives unwittingly had provoked the agency by pointing out publicly that South Carolina, as a right-to-work state, is less prone to strikes than Boeing’s manufacturing hub in union-friendly Washington state .That was hardly a revelation. It was a simple fact of business life, stated in a somewhat blunt fashion.

To the NLRB, however, them was fightin’ words. In his complaint, Solomon essentially argues that based partly on the Boeing executives’ comments, the decision to locate in South Carolina unfairly deprived the company’s union of its stranglehold over 787 production. The proposed remedy is about as extreme as anyone could imagine: The NLRB wants to stop the new plant from operating. The case is slated for trial before an administrative law judge this month.

As it stands today, the plant is open and gearing up to produce its first Dreamliner. Boeing has hired 1,000 workers for it in the past year, and also operates 787-related facilities around the plant with thousands of additional employees. If Solomon gets his way, forcing production to Washington, Boeing will be stuck with a $750 million custom-built plant and a trained workforce that can’t be used. Beyond that, the 787 already is running three years behind schedule. An additional government-imposed delay would be a gift to European rival Airbus.

We understand why the unions don’t like Boeing’s move. The Machinists could have more readily colonized another assembly line in the Pacific Northwest than in the less-labor-friendly Palmetto State — though no one says they can’t try. They surely have a better chance in Dixie than if Boeing had located its plant in China.

For the Obama administration, the backlash against NLRB over-reaching has become a burden on the campaign trail. How can the president make jobs the centerpiece of his re-election bid when his appointees have put such an indefensible blot on his record?

His administration retorts that its hands are tied because the NLRB is an independent agency. Right now, though, Obama can defuse this controversy by working with Republicans to fill the NLRB vacancies with sensible policymakers. GOP members of Congress are confident they have the procedural means to stop Obama from unilaterally filling these seats with recess appointments.

Or he can try to fill the three slots with appointees driven by pro-labor orthodoxy — and spend the 2012 campaign explaining why he did so.

His choice.

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