When the National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel filed a complaint challenging Boeing’s decision to open a $2 billion plant in South Carolina — one of 22 “right-to-work” states that prohibit compulsory union membership — the state’s governor, Nikki Haley (R), launched a spirited opposition campaign, urging members of Congress, the GOP 2012 field, and her fellow governors to weigh in on what she argued was an issue of national significance.
“Governor Haley believes what the NLRB is doing is not just an attack on right-to-work states — it’s an attack on every state and every business attempting to put people back to work,” her spokesman Rob Godfrey tells National Review Online.
Republicans were quick to offer their support. A group of GOP senators drafted legislation not only to head off the NLRB’s pending action against Boeing but also to prevent any similar attempts against other companies in the future. But the bill quickly stalled when it became clear that not one of the eleven Senate Democrats representing right-to-work states was willing to stand up to the White House and Big Labor by signing on as cosponsors. Not even Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), two moderates from right-to-work states facing tough reelection battles next year, would stick up for their states.
Meanwhile, of the 22 governors in right-to-work states, only two are Democrats. One of them, Mike Beebe of Arkansas, has expressed concern that the NLRB ruling could be “detrimental” to his state’s economic-development efforts. The Boeing saga, he said, “undoubtedly is raising questions about a company’s ability to move plants to different parts of the company for competitive reasons.” In fact, state officials had actively tried to recruit Boeing to build its new 787 Dreamliner plant in Arkansas, using their state’s right-to-work status as a chief selling point.
The other is Gov. Bev Perdue of North Carolina, who not only has failed to denounce the ruling or express concern, but has refused to weigh in at all. Perdue’s press office tells NRO the governor is simply “not engaged on the issue.”
Fair enough, one might argue: Perdue has enough on her plate trying to close a nearly $3 billion budget deficit. On the other hand, maybe she ought to be grateful that she has the flexibility to make the difficult decisions that forced-unionization states don’t have, not to mention to the advantage right-to-work states enjoy when it comes to attracting new businesses. “It seems obvious that Bev Perdue is afraid to say anything that might offend her leftist support base, which is just what speaking up on behalf of North Carolina’s right-to-work statute would do,” says George Leef of the Raleigh-based Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.
Indeed, if the Democratic party’s enthrallment to the purse and power of Big Labor was ever in doubt (an admittedly big if), the blatant refusal of Democratic lawmakers to defend the economic interests of the states they were elected to serve is a shocking example of this symbiotic relationship. A couple of weeks ago, in a telling display, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka issued the latest in a serious of warnings to Democrats, threatening to withhold support from politicians who fail to wholeheartedly embrace the union cause.
“It doesn’t matter if candidates and parties are controlling the wrecking ball or simply standing aside — the outcome is the same either way,” Trumka said at a National Press Club luncheon. “If leaders aren’t blocking the wrecking ball and advancing working families’ interests, working people will not support them. This is where our focus will be — now, in 2012, and beyond.”
Clearly, that message is being received, and Perdue’s is a particularly revealing case. According to a report filed by Boeing, the company spends more than $200 million annually in North Carolina and supports more than 220 businesses and thousands of jobs in the state. Many of those businesses stand to directly benefit from the new South Carolina plant.
But what are a few thousand jobs stacked up against one’s fealty to Big Labor? Not to mention the Democratic establishment, the entirety of which is set to descend on Charlotte for the 2012 Democratic convention in the hopes of boosting President Obama’s chances in what is sure to be an especially important swing state. It would be a shame to complicate things by “engaging” on behalf of state businesses that would certainly suffer if the NLRB (and the White House) gets its way. As it turns out, North Carolina’s junior senator, Kay Hagan, is one of the eleven Democrats who refuse even to question the board’s ruling. Her office did not return requests for comment.
Both parties certainly have their cadres of special interests. As it stands, however, only one seems interested in economic growth.
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin Fellow.