At the oft-ignored intersection of politics and labor law, an interesting tussle is brewing. At issue is whether a federal administrative agency can tell Boeing where it must build its 787 Dreamliner.
On April 20, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against Boeing Co. The NLRB contends that Boeing’s decision to put its Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina, rather than in Washington with other Boeing production facilities, constituted unlawful retaliation against unions that have struck Boeing facilities on several occasions over the last 25 years. As a remedy, the Board asserts that Boeing should be required to move Dreamliner production from South Carolina to Washington. The NLRB’s action is seen as an outrageous power grab by politicians in South Carolina — which is a right-to-work state — and Congress will hold hearings on the matter. Boeing, which has sunk lots of money into its nearly completed factory in South Carolina, says its decision on where to locate the plant wasn’t retaliatory.
We don’t yet know what really motivated Boeing’s decision to put its production line in South Carolina and whether retaliatory animus played a part. However, an administrative agency asserting that it has the power to order a company to move an entire production line from one state to another is a breath-taking exercise of federal authority — one that should give us all pause. Should unelected administrative agencies be empowered to second-guess where companies decide to do business? And if moving production facilities from one part of America to another can be characterized as anti-union retaliation, couldn’t the NLRB also claim that moving production facilities overseas to low-wage, non-unionized countries is retaliation as well?