NLRB Accuses Boeing of Illegally Moving Production Facility to South Carolina

The General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has issued a complaint against Boeing claiming that it will violate federal labor law if it follows through on its decision to open a production line in South Carolina instead of the Puget Sound area. 

Since the 1930's the guiding principle of federal labor law has been to create a fair and level playing field for collective bargaining.  It is not intended, however, to dictate the results of that bargaining or to compel specific business decisions like when and where to open manufacturing facilities.   Thus, businesses are normally free to make decisions about where to locate their plants. 

On the other hand, the Nation Labor Relations Act does prohibit employers from making specific threats or promises designed to coerce workers from forming unions or engaging in other protected activities.  For example, if an employer tells its workers before a unionization vote that it will shut down the plant and move to Mexico rather than allow a union that would clearly violate the Act.

The NLRB is seeking to extend this anti-coercion theory as the hook to require Boeing to keep its production facility in a pro-union state.

In repeated statements to employees and the media, company executives cited the unionized employees’ past strike activity and the possibility of strikes occurring sometime in the future as the overriding factors in deciding to locate the second line in the non-union facility.

The NLRB launched an investigation of the transfer of second line work in response to charges filed by the Machinists union and found reasonable cause to believe that Boeing had violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act because its statements were coercive to employees and its actions were motivated by a desire to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity.

Barring an employer from relocating a plant on the ground that it might chill speculative future strikes represents quite a stretch over prior precedents.  It is unclear whether this is a serious complaint or a case of political posturing.  However, this NLRB Complaint is sure to set off a wave of controversy as it inevitably pits the interests of Washington State and South Carolina against one another.        

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