Labor woes make Dreamliner delivery a bittersweet celebration for Boeing

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The South Carolina plant will produce its first 787 plane next year, and by the end of 2013, Boeing hopes to produce ten Dreamliners per month –seven in Washington State and three in South Carolina. But the union contends that Boeing made the decision to locate in South Carolina in retaliation for previous strike action by the Everett workers, and the Acting General Counsel (AGC) of the NLRB agrees.  The law allows Boeing to relocate production for economic reasons, but not in retaliation for exercising the legal right to strike.

Last Friday, the Machinists union released internal company documents that appear to confirm its allegation that Boeing acted illegally in moving the production to South Carolina.

Obtained through a NLRB subpoena, the documents formed part of a presentation to the Boeing board titled “Project Gemini,” which promised a
long-term solution to the company’s labor problems by reducing “union dependence.” Project Gemini found that the South Carolina assembly plant option was the one most likely to fail and would involve significant start-up costs that far exceeded the cost of expanding production in Everett, but would help with "rebalancing an unbalanced and uncompetitive labor relationship." Producing Dreamliners in South Carolina would give Boeing the upper hand over the union and avoid the “current hostage situation” posed by the threat of potential strike action.

The evidence against Boeing now appears overwhelming: in addition to a Boeing executive telling the Seattle Times in an online interview that the
desire to avoid further strikes was the over-riding factor in choosing South Carolina for the new plant, Boeing has now been caught saying the
same thing in internal company documents. South Carolina was not the prudent economic choice -- it was more expensive and, according to the
company’s own analysis, the highest-risk option -- but it would enable Boeing to avoid unions, collective bargaining and strikes. Outside of
Boeing’s formidable P.R. machine and the alternate reality of GOP presidential politics, it is now crystal clear that Lafe Solomon, the AGC
of the labor board, had no choice but to issue the complaint. Solomon was simply enforcing the law.

Boeing has vowed to take the fight with the NLRB to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and despite the most recent revelations, it continues to receive
unconditional support from Congressional Republicans and GOP presidential hopefuls, who have attacked the NLRB as a “rogue agency,” while the House of Representatives recently passed a bill stripping the board of its authority to reverse relocation decisions, even if they are taken for illegal reasons. That billed stalled in the Senate, but its popularity in the House demonstrated how Republicans have enthusiastically embraced the Boeing dispute. Frequently ignoring even the most basic facts in the case,they have framed the dispute as further evidence of Obama’s “job-destroying” regulatory agenda by a government agency “run amok.” Practically every GOP presidential candidate has weighed in to demonize the NLRB. Most recently Mitt Romney wrote that, as a result of the NLRB complaint, “the rule of law has been undermined, business confidence shaken, and job creation further slowed.”

Romney’s comments are as predictable as they are misleading. But the last word here should be left to an Everett-based Boeing mechanic, who last week
reported being told by line managers: “If you don’t get [737 aircraft assembly work] done, we’ll move this to South Carolina.” This none-too-subtle intimidation, experienced by millions of American workers who try to form unions and bargain collectively, shows why the NLRB is so essential.


John Logan is Director and Professor of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.