Republicans are up in arms over an official complaint by the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel against aerospace giant Boeing for its decision to open a new plant in South Carolina — a right-to-work state — instead of expanding its facilities in Puget Sound, Wash. And they want to make sure President Obama hears them loud and clear.
At a press conference today at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, GOP senators joined South Carolina governor Nikki Haley (R.) in denouncing the general counsel’s actions and calling on the president to speak out on the matter. “This goes against everything we know our American economy to be,” Haley said. “For the president not to weigh in on this and not to say that this is going to be harmful is a problem.”
The NLRB complaint alleges that Boeing’s decision constitutes illegal “retaliation” against a machinist union in Washington State. But Haley, along with South Carolina senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, is outraged and sees the decision as a threat to her state’s economy. “This is personal,” Haley said. “When you go after a corporate citizen in South Carolina, it is personal to me.”
Graham decried the NLRB’s “unbelievable attack” on Boeing, which, he said, is merely seeking out the best environment in which to do business. “It’s not like Boeing just picked up and came to South Carolina without any discussions,” he said. “This was a long, hard decision by the Boeing company, and they made a good business decision after a lot negotiations with many people. . . . Under the law, they have the right to do this.”
Boeing has already invested about $2 billion in the South Carolina plant, and now faces millions more in legal fees as a result of the NLRB complaint. The company has pointed out that no jobs or benefits have been cut in their original Puget Sound plant. In fact, more than 2,000 new positions have been created there since the decision to place the new plant in South Carolina.
DeMint called it “absurd” that in a country like the United States — a beacon of free enterprise — an unaccountable, unelected government agency could potentially undermine thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment. “This is something you would expect in a Third World country,” he said. “It is thuggery at its best, and we cannot stand for it here in this country.” He argued that the NLRB likely knew full it could not possibly win with such a spurious argument, but was simply trying to raise the cost (i.e. legal fees) for other companies who might follow in Boeing’s footsteps.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), a former governor, said concern over the NLRB’s overreach extended well beyond South Carolina, which is why he is drafting legislation — dubbed “The Right to Work Protection Act” — to clarify existing law to not only forestall the NLRB’s pending action against Boeing but also to prevent any similar attempts against other companies. Alexander expects significant bipartisan support.
Another important aspect of the bill would protect an employer’s free-speech right to “have honest negotiations without fear that comments will be used as evidence in an anti-union-discrimination case.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.), who is helping to draft the legislation, posed several pointed questions to the president: “Mr. President, do you have an enemies list? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina is a Republican state, has two Republican senators? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina is a right-to-work state? Are they on your enemies list?” He warned of the precedent that would be set by allowing “the full power and bully nature of government” to influence where companies do business.
Above all, Graham said, the most blatant evidence as to the absurdity of the board’s attack on Boeing was the fact that White House chief of staff Bill Daley served on Boeing’s board and participated in the unanimous vote to open the plant in South Carolina. “This makes no sense,” Graham said. “Would they hire someone who busts unions at the White House?”
Not only that, but in March 2011, Obama tapped Boeing CEO Jim McNerney to head the President’s Export Council, created to facilitate the president’s goal of doubling U.S. exports in five years. “Just stand up for your own people, if nothing else,” Graham said.
Haley took a more aggressive tack, urging Obama to overhaul his attitude toward the business community. “All he’s doing right now is creating best friends with every other country in the world — they are loving him right now — because he is forcing business to go out of our country and he is keeping business from coming in,” she said. “We need him to love this country, we need him to understand what he’s doing to this country. He absolutely owes the American public a response.”
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin fellow.