NEW YORK — America has a 9.1 percent national unemployment rate. Americans’ top concerns are jobs, jobs and jobs.
So it strains belief that the unconfirmed acting general counsel of an obscure regulatory agency wants to stop Boeing Co. from using its newly built aircraft manufacturing plant in South Carolina.
But it’s happening. The National Labor Relations Board’s main mission is to settle disputes between employers and labor unions. Its acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon — nominated by President Barack Obama in January but as yet unconfirmed by the Senate — has charged that Boeing’s decision to expand production of its 787 Dreamliner in its new Charleston plant was made in retaliation for prior strikes at its Everett, Wash., plant.
Solomon’s charge was brought after a complaint from the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), which represents Boeing employees in Washington state. Hearings began last June before an NLRB judge.
If the NLRB decides in the union’s favor, American unemployment will be permanently higher than otherwise. More American manufacturing plants will locate overseas. Fewer foreign firms will invest here.
Solomon wants Boeing to build an additional three Dreamliners a month in Washington. His complaint is that Boeing was “transferring” a second 787 Dreamliner production line of three planes per month from Washington to a nonunion site in Charleston.
But no transfer occurred. Boeing, with a backlog of 850 planes, has not reduced employment in Washington. It has simply added a plant in South Carolina. Seven planes a month are being built in Everett; three per month are planned for Charleston.
Boeing explored Washington state and other locations for a second plant, and decided that costs would be lowest and production most reliable in South Carolina.
If Boeing is penalized from locating where costs are lowest and production most reliable, then many other companies will be charged.
Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for the IAM District Lodge 751, said that Boeing is breaking the law by threatening workers and trying to chill negotiations.
“You threaten the workers for federally protected activity, and it’s against the law in all 50 states,” she said. All agree that Boeing has not closed its plant in Everett, nor has it laid off workers.
At issue is whether Boeing has the right to open a new plant elsewhere for any reason, such as lower costs of production and geographic diversity.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said, “This is a direct assault on everything we know America to be. I will stand with any governor who is dealing with this issue.”
If Solomon wins, American and foreign companies will be discouraged not just from expanding in other states, but from doing any business in America. Flexibility to move operations will be sharply curtailed.
The biggest losers would be unemployed workers in union-dominated states such as Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. New plant and investment is far more likely to come to right-to-work states.
The biggest winners will be our foreign competitors like China and India. The NLRB has no jurisdiction overseas.
If Boeing had decided to produce more Dreamliners in Mexico, the NLRB would not have been able to close the plant. General Electric recently transferred the headquarters of its X-ray division to China, without a word of complaint from the NLRB.
Boeing is not asking for federal dollars. It has laid off no employees. It has simply built a plant and wants to hire more American workers. If more companies did the same, our unemployment rate might actually go down.
• Furchtgott-Roth is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think-tank. Readers may write to her at Manhattan Institute, 51 Vanderbilt Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017; website: www.manhattan-institute.org.