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Boeing versus the National Labor Relations Board

Commentator David Frum.

Kai Ryssdal: The world's largest aerospace company reported stellar profits this morning. Boeing says earnings rose 13 percent in the first quarter.

But the skies aren't entirely clear. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the company over questions of work practices. It sounds fairly bureaucratic, but it could represent a new direction in labor law in this country.

Commentator David Frum says we should all be paying attention.


David Frum: Let's go to the bottom line: the National Labor Relations Board's headline-making complaint against Boeing for investing in South Carolina is almost certainly going nowhere.

The complaint involves Boeing's decision to expand production of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft in South Carolina rather than in Washington. Boeing's union and the NLRB allege that the decision to expand in South Carolina amounts to illegal "retaliation" for past strike activity by Boeing unions.

The NLRB has in the past acted against companies that close one location after a strike in order to open another. But it's unprecedented for the NLRB to act against a company that -- like Boeing -- maintains existing production but expands somewhere else. The NLRB has never before attempted to assert authority over investment and expansion decisions.

For that reason, it's generally believed by labor lawyers that Boeing will prevail, and probably sooner rather than later.

The South Carolina congressional delegation is enraged by the NLRB's action against Boeing's expansion in their state. Senator Lindsay Graham points out that one of the Boeing board members who voted for the South Carolina expansion was William Daley, now President Obama's chief of staff. Is the Obama administration suggesting that its own chief of staff engaged in illegal anti-union retaliation?

But the issue here is not South Carolina. The issue is: what does the NLRB think it is doing by attempting to reinvent labor law in this radical way?

Perhaps the NLRB hopes that by administrative action they can somehow hold the line against outsourcing, and thus compel American corporations to place investment in future where investment went in the past.

If so, those hopes are worse than futile. They represent a tragic distraction from the challenge of sustaining middle-class incomes in a globalized era. The NLRB's high-handed actions will achieve nothing but enriching Boeing's lawyers on the way to the inevitable outcome.


Ryssdal: David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Today he's the editor of FrumForum. Next Wednesday, Robert Reich's up in the rotation. In the meantime, send us your comments.

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