Print Issue Volume 98 - No. 5

Boeing, the IAM, and the NLRB: Why U.S. Labor Law Is Failing

In April 2011, the National Labor Relations Board’s Acting General Counsel, Lafe Solomon, issued a complaint against The Boeing Company. The complaint alleged that Boeing violated the National Labor Relations Act by shifting assembly work on its 787 Dreamliner from Everett, Washington, to North Charleston, South Carolina. According to the complaint, the company decided to shift work from Everett to North Charleston to retaliate against workers in Everett for past strikes—activity protected by the NLRA.

The NLRB has been under constant attack ever since. Many of the Board’s critics have claimed to discern a conspiracy with “big labor” to further the political fortunes of President Obama. Others accused the agency of having an anti-business, job-endangering agenda. Joe Nocera, writing in the New York Times, stated, “Seriously, when has a government agency ever tried to dictate where a company makes its products? I can’t ever remember it happening. . . . I’ve become mildly obsessed with the Boeing affair. Nothing matters more right now than job creation.”

In this article, I will show that the National Labor Relations Board has done nothing to warrant the torrent of criticism. The General Counsel’s action was consistent with the language of the NLRA and supported by precedent. It posed
no serious threat to Boeing’s well-being, or even to its decision to assemble 787 Dreamliners in South Carolina. Properly understood, the clamor over Boeing’s right to make corporate business decisions demonstrates the weakness of the NLRB and not its rampant power. Indeed, the entire campaign against the Board appears to be part of a political effort aimed at organized labor and the last remnants of the New Deal legislation that created the NLRB. What is now needed is an effort to recreate the NLRB into the agency it was intended to be.

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