Every American should be afraid when their government tells them to keep their mouths shut. This is especially true when the subject relates to a matter of national public policy.
On Monday, Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), seemed to forget about the right to free speech when he essentially told Boeing, and all other commentators, to shut it.
In 2009, Boeing made a rational business decision regarding the placement of one of its new production facilities. It decided to open a new plant in South Carolina, a right-to-work state. The NLRB claims that Boeing decided to locate the new facility in South Carolina as retaliation for past union strikes in Boeing’s Washington State locations. This ignores the fact that in the meantime Boeing has added over 2,000 employees to its Washington State locations.
The unions are unhappy with the Obama administration for several reasons. As a result, the administration needs to find ways to keep them happy. While unions spent tens of millions of dollars to get Obama elected, only a few union wishes have been realized. Since political opposition makes the passage of high-profile legislation like the so-called Employee Free Choice Act impossible, the administration has resorted to below-the-radar ways to appease its union supporters. Enter the NLRB.
The administration has stacked the NLRB with union operatives. The president used the recess appointment process to place Craig Becker, the former associate general counsel for the SEIU and AFL-CIO, on the board. With Mr. Becker in office, the board has embarked on an activist stint with the apparent intention of making labor laws and regulations more favorable to unions.
Having seen that the NLRB’s case against Boeing is weak and that the board’s position is being destroyed in analysis by anyone who has taken a serious look at the matter, Mr. Solomon, in a rather snippy letter to Boeing general counsel Michael Luttig, complained about the press coverage, saying, “We hope all interested parties respect the legal process, rather than trying to litigate this case in the media and public arena.” In other words, “keep your mouth shut.” The hypocrisy here is hard to miss given the board’s propensity to issue press releases anytime doing so will further its positions. This is case of “do as I say, not as I do.”
Boeing and all other commentators have a First Amendment right to speak freely, and all should continue to exercise that right. The fact that a high-ranking government official is telling a company and the rest of the public to shut up should send chills down everyone’s back. This type of attempted prior restraint is unacceptable in all but the most extreme circumstances, i.e., falsely yelling “fire” in a crowded building.
Since Mr. Solomon is an attorney, he could do well to take a refresher course on First Amendment law. Perhaps a continuing legal education class on the issue would be helpful for him.
In the meantime, he and all other similarly situated officials should take a step back and remember that preserving our constitutional rights is more important than saving the NLRB’s board members from suffering embarrassment as their position is taken apart by public inspection.
Bill Wilson is President of Americans for Limited Government, a non-profit dedicated to smaller government.