In a case that is causing regional, political and business controversy, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has accused Boeing of illegally setting up shop in South Carolina because of past strikes by the unionized workers at its main manufacturing base in the Seattle area. The NLRB is asking a judge to order Boeing to move the plant production and associated jobs to Washington State. This, of course, is despite the fact that Boeing has spent $750 million building the new plant near Charleston, SC and is preparing to open the plant which is the size of 12 football fields and will employ 1,000 workers in just a few weeks to build the new 787 Dreamliners.
Although companies in the U.S. can generally move their operations anywhere they choose, federal law under the National Labor Relation Act (NLRA) bars them from doing so if a move involves punishing employees for exercising their federally protected right to unionize or strike. In this particular situation, Boeing management has mentioned past strikes as a reason for the move to South Carolina.
The legal action by the NLRB was filed in April on behalf of Boeing’s principal union and the controversy over it is escalating to the point where Republican presidential candidates have denounced it and President Obama has been pressured to respond to the case. So far, although Mr. Obama has stated that he did not want to discuss the details of the case because the NLRB is an independent agency, he has stated that “as a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate” and further stated “We can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we’re competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to see goods around the world.”
The outcome of this case may not be decided for some time as it winds its way through NLRB proceedings and likely court appeals. If Boeing loses, it could be ordered to move its Dreamliner assembly line from South Carolina to Washington State. Summarized from NYT article, “Boeing Dispute Becomes Political Football in South Carolina,” 06-30-2011, HRM Partners, Inc.