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.
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.