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Boeing's South Carolina move: Illegal union bashing or just good business?

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The NLRB's general counsel, Lafe Solomon, has alleged in a complaint that Boeing attempted to intimidate and threaten union workers by citing recent strikes as part of the decision to build the plant in South Carolina, a state that doesn't allowed closed union shops. But at a Chamber of Commerce roundtable Tuesday, Republicans attempted to seize on the move as not only an ill-timed and "unprecedented" attack on American industry, but as a stake in the ground for a brewing battle of political will between industrial, and largely union-friendly, Northern states and the 22 "right-to-work" states in the South and West.

"On one side you've got presidential politics and the labor movement's strained relationship with the Democrats, and on the other side you have states' rights, free enterprise and sweeping antiunion sentiments," says Gary Chaison, an industrial relations professor at Clark University, in Worcester, Mass. "It's an incredibly volatile mixture."

Boeing is getting set to open the $2 billion, 3,800-employee facility this summer. But the NLRB complaint, made in response to the AFL-CIO and the International Association of Machinists, points to specific statements by Boeing officials connecting the South Carolina move to the 2008 strikes, which could put the company in violation of federal labor law. The complaint pointed to a specific statement made by a Boeing official to the Seattle Times, where he said that the "overriding factor" behind the South Carolina decision "was that we cannot afford to have a work stoppage, you know, every three years."

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