US House Votes to Curtail Protections on Private Sector Workers’ Right to Strike

Last week, by a vote of 238 to 186, the US House voted to strip the National Labor Relations Board of one of its powers – the power to stop companies from transferring work to punish workers who organize a union or strike their employer.  HR 2587, known to sponsors as the ‘Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act’ and to opponents as the ‘Job Outsourcers’ Bill of Rights,’ is not expected to pass the Senate.

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The move was inspired by the now-notorious Boeing case, in which the aircraft manufacturer decided to start a new production line in Charleston, SC rather than simply expanding production its main facilities in Washington state. Of itself, this is unremarkable, and if Boeing’s corporate officers had kept their own counsel – or attributed the move to a thousand different conventional business rationales – there would be no legal dispute. But Boeing CEO Jim McNerney told the Seattle Times that “strikes happening every three or four years at Puget sound” were the real reason for the move – turning what had been a routine corporate decision into a potentially illegal act.

The National Labor Relations Act doesn’t protect workers from ordinary business decisions, but it does protect their right to join unions and to strike – and it prohibits employers from retaliating by moving work away. So the Machinists Union, which represents the Washington Boeing workers, filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board in Spring 2010 – winning a favorable decision in April 2011.

Boeing, meanwhile, cleverly put the Board in a no-win situation by gearing up in Charleston and creating ‘facts on the ground’ even as the case proceeded. That left the Board with the unhappy choice of either ignoring Boeing’s continued defiance, or seeking enforcement of its order in the courts knowing that a victory would mean putting the new South Carolina employees out of work.

HR 2587 supporter Rep. Ron Kline (MN) argued that the bill “tells job creators they don’t have to worry about an activist NLRB telling them where they can locate their business.” This it would. It would by the same token permit corporations to retaliate against uppity workers who strike – or even merely organize a union – by sending their jobs away.  

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Vince Killoran
6 years 2 months ago
"Job creators": That's a good one!  Does anyone outside the ruling class believe that it is anything more than a lame attempt put forward by the Repubs in recent years to mask the fact that they're involved in the biggest class warfare in recent decades? The rich got all the breaks: they did not create the jobs.  That's not how jobs get created.

The NLRB bill is pure-and-simple anti-unionism. Please, no posts with fake sincerity about how it is meant to check union power and nothing more.  Unions haven't had power in decades. This  is another nail in the coffin of workplace democracy and it violates Catholic social teaching.

Power is seriously lopsided in this country toward the over privileged.  Inequality is growing. Labor law is broken.
6 years 2 months ago
"Boeing should spend less money for lobbyist scum and more for engineers to design better planes."

Mr. Kopacz-

Please explain to me, exactly, how it is that Boeing is gaining power via lobbyists in this debate?  If I'm not mistaken, despite spending millions on a factory that now sits empty and unused (and workers unhired I would add), a relatively small group of people in another state have managed to bring the power of the federal government against Boeing.  So, pray tell, who is it that has the power here?

6 years 2 months ago
"BTW, the decision is on-line and readily available & there's no mystery surrounding the details of Boeing's misdeeds or the ruling."

You mean the decision by Obama-appointed labor bureaucrats?  You mean the one that admits that Boeing hasn't fired a single worker at teh Washington Plant or moved a single project already at the Washington plant to South Carolina?

You might not like to hear facts, but Boeing IS the underdog here.
Vince Killoran
6 years 2 months ago
I don't understand Jeff-did the NLRB all of a sudden become partisan when Obama became president? For the record the NLRB has, over the decades, conceded more and more to "mangagemen perogative." [see Jim Gross' two volume history]. This is a rare ruling for labor unions and that truly burns the Repubs.

Have your actually read the facts of the case?  I thought you were a lawyer. . .
Vince Killoran
6 years 2 months ago
I think you need to direct your reply to Jeff, not me since he was arguing that the NLRB was, suddenly biased.  The work by legal scholar Jim Gross indicates that GOP appointees are hardcore anti-union while Democratic appointees, especially beginning w/Carter, were moderates and not at all "pro-labor."  Moderate Dems., including Obama, are not labor allies (in fact, Obama's comments about the Boeing case back in July were decidely lukewarm).
C Walter Mattingly
6 years 2 months ago
There are comparisons to be made with where Boeing is as a manufacturer today and where GM and Caterpillar were a generation or so ago.
GM and CAT then were still the great manufacturers in their respective industries, but both were being seriously challenged by foreign competitors Toyota and Komatsu respectively. The UAW and unions in general, feeling their oats, moved to soak both companies. In the case of GM, they succeeded, with huge benefits that their very own President Obama has since aptly described as "Cadillac," and similar sweetheart wages and labor rules. (We should not blame merely the unions. GM's CEO's and upper management were equally greedy, not wanting to jeapordize their 3 year stock options with a long strike that would render them worthless.) We all know the result. It is so bad that we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for those Cadillac pensions and benfits to GM workers even though we bailed out a bankrupt GM, which should have seen these benefits paid by the Resolution Trust at a reduced rate, not to mention the taxpayer is not likely to be repaid the GM loans.
Caterpillar, on the other hand, fought off the union grab for bucks and endured a terrible strike. The result? Today they pay taxes and didn't receive massive government subsidies. CAT still is the number one producer of heavy equipment in the world; GM has dropped a long way from that pinnacle and, truly, went bankrupt.
Boeing is now at that crossroads. They have been the number one manufacturer of commercial airliners for years, although now they are being challenged by Airbus, just as GM was by Toyota. The union of course sees an opportunity to attack Boeing for more bucks at a vulnerable moment. If they can prevent Boeing from entering into interstate commerce, they can get big bucks in the short run. If Boeing caves or is defeated from opening their factory in SC, they will be one step along the way of GM, and the unions will again have brought down another US manufacturer at the expense of the US economy and American jobs. But perhaps they can get President Obama to guarantee their Superliner benefits packages by the US taxpayer too.
6 years 2 months ago
Wow; this is a really even-handed account of the dispute.  Let's just consider some facts omitted from this "report":

1. Not only did Boeing not transfer or remove work from the Washington plant, it ADDED 2000 workers at that plant.

2. The labor agreement between Boeing and the unions speficially allows Boeing to locate its plants where it deems in its best interests.

3.  Boeing is a public company, and as such is responsible ultimately to its shareholders, many of whom are middle class folks whose pensions are invested in Boeing shares.  In its last negotiation in 2008, union workers stopped production for 58 days costing Boeing (and ultimately its shareholders) 1.8 BILLION.

4.  It is settled labor law in the US that a company can consider past striking activity when making business decisions.

Finally, why are the progressives, who so often champion freedom and openess and choice, so afraid of the right of working people to decide for themselves whether or not to join a union instead of having to rely on government coercion and gimmicks like stripping workers of the secret ballot (hurray workplace democracy!)?

So far, despite his rhetoric on creating jobs, the President has shown a dogged determination to kill off jobs that he finds demeaning to his administration's goals; but don't take my word for it, just come down and ask the blue collar workers in Louisiana's oil and gas economy who aren't working, and then go over to South Carolina and ask those good blue collar folks.
6 years 2 months ago
Thanks Jeff- contrary to what is often posted here when it comes to matters of unions, Catholic social teaching doesn’t mean simply presenting one sided arguments or mindlessly presenting the talking points of a labor union.

To engage in a vigorous debate, both sides of an argument need to be understood. Too often in our world, the media only present one side or the other. I think many of us come to AMERICA Magazine because it strives to be different and present a fair understanding of our world with a Catholic perspective.
 
To name only one example, within the Church in recent years, this magazine and it’s editors have, sometimes with great personal criticism, presented both sides of a church controversy. They did not advocate against the Church, but they did want to make sure intelligent people understood the issues properly, and were not just presented with stickman arguments on one side.
 
Yet on matters of labor law and unions, this same philosophy of seems to go out the window here and it is frustrating. Clayton is a trade union activitist and of course is entitled to his opinion. Yet it seems, left unfettered, he is going to present only one side of the labor argument -not because he doesn’t know both sides of the issue – but rather precisely because he does understand both sides and chooses to omit / make straw man out of the opposing facts. Perhaps this approach makes for good tv ratings on MSNBC or FOXNews but it brings down rather then lifts up vigorous dialogue.
 
In this case, the difference between the implied “ transferred work” and the implied “ jobs lost” in Seattle vs. increased employment in Seattle and a decision to direct additional expansion by the company into another state because of regular work stoppages and the NLRB regulating the latter moves by a private company changes the debate. You can agree or disagree but it does change the debate .
 
Even commentators who are presenting a point of view should be held to a standard of presenting addressing fairly both sides of important issues
 
I expect more from Amercia magazine then the usual dialogue / debate on MSNBC or FOXNews.
Stanley Kopacz
6 years 2 months ago
More power to the powerful.  What else is new?  Boeing should spend less money for lobbyist scum and more for engineers to design better planes.  They must be losing out to Airbus and need to make up the loss on the backs of the emolyees.
Vince Killoran
6 years 2 months ago
"So, pray tell, who is it that has the power here?"

Boeing spent the millions on the new factory as a way of thwarting the union. Their strategy didn't work.  As for "the power of the federal government," why, pray tell, portray Boeing as the underdog?


BTW, the decision is on-line and readily available & there's no mystery surrounding the details of Boeing's misdeeds or the ruling. 
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 2 months ago
"Have your actually read the facts of the case?  I thought you were a lawyer. . ."

Have you read my comments, because if so, you would see I began by stating FACTS that were omitted.
Vince Killoran
6 years 2 months ago
The facts at issue centered on company plans to change future manufacturing as a direct response to the presence of an existing union.  Boeing broke the law.  

I'm not certain why you won't read the actual decision but here's the link: http://www.wslc.org/reports/2011/Boeing-NLRB-063011.pdf. 

For all the Repubs whining I haven't read one compelling response to the relevant legal issues. 

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