Alexander: Obama administration attacking right-to-work laws

John Rossomando Contributor
Font Size:

Senate Republicans say the Obama administration is intent on undermining the right-to-work laws that are in force in 22 states, as evidenced by a recent National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint against Boeing.

Right-to-work laws forbid workers from being required to join unions as a condition of their employment, and a Senate GOP bill aims to protect employers who wish to expand into right-to-work states.

“For the last two years the major battle over labor relations was over card check over the secret ballot, over card check,” Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander said. “Now I think it shifts to the right-to-work law and whether the administration can stop companies from locating in right-to-work states, which is obviously the goal of complaints like this.”

Alexander has co-sponsored the bill together with South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, and 32 other co-sponsors.

The bill S 964 would protect the right of employers to discuss the costs associated with strikes and other consequences of having a unionized workforce without fear of reprisals. It would also prevent the NLRB from telling an employer where it has to employ workers.

The NLRB complaint against Boeing alleges its decision to move assembly work on its 787 Dreamliner to a $1 billion plant, slated to open next month, in North Charleston, S.C., violates the rights of unionized workers at its plants in Washington state.

The federal labor board claims that Boeing’s decision to move work that was originally intended to been done in Washington to its new South Carolina location was retaliatory against the union’s legal right to strike.

According to the complaint, Boeing management told several Seattle press outlets in late 2009 and early 2010 that they planned to relocate work to South Carolina to avoid the kinds of strikes that had previously hampered work at the Washington location.

An NLRB spokeswoman told The Daily Caller under the condition of anonymity that these press comments served as the basis of the complaint and triggered the NRLB’s investigation. The complaint, she said, would not have been brought had management never referenced the union’s right to strike in press interviews.

“They are not moving jobs; they are expanding their operations,” Alexander said. “They are expanding a new production line in South Carolina, which they started nearly two years ago and on which they have spent about a billion dollars.”

He disputes the NRLB’s contention that Boeing decided to expand into South Carolina to dodge the union’s right to strike. “In general counsel’s testimony, they testified there were many other decisions and factors that went into this decision,” Alexander said. “One is the that the cost of doing business generally in South Carolina. One is the location on the East Coast, so there are a variety of reasons that they went to South Carolina.”

Alexander argues the complaint implies that a company that operates in a state that has compulsory unionism cannot expand into a right-to-work state like South Carolina and that complaint could discourage job growth in states with forced unionism.

Every Southern state has a right-to-work law from Virginia to Texas. Outside of the South, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona also have right-to-work laws.

“If Volkswagen decides to open a plant in the United States and it chose Michigan, under this sort of law Volkswagen would not be able to open an engine plant in Georgia, which is a right-to-work state,” Alexander told TheDC, referring to the potential impact of the complaint should it succeed.

Alexander and his supporters say this complaint is the latest example of the Obama administration’s effort to impose compulsory unionism across the country and say it is on par with its early failed effort to eliminate the secret ballot in union elections.

“The single biggest problem facing our country is persisting high unemployment and creating jobs, and this policy is the single biggest step the federal government can make to make it harder to create jobs in Tennessee for example,” Alexander continued. “These policies are completely out of line with the president’s need to create an environment where we can make it easier and cheaper to create good jobs in the United States.”

DeMint’s office prepared a report in response to the NRLB action arguing that right-to-work laws have contributed to greater economic growth for states that have them compared with those that do not.

The report claims close to 59.4 percent of all new private-sector businesses were created in right-to-work states between 1993 and 2009, compared to 40.6 percent in states without right-to-work laws. It also says that right-to-work states created 157,207 more new businesses in the same time period than unionized states.

Alexander told TheDC right-to-work laws in southern states such as his home state of Tennessee, where he served as governor in the 1980s, have allowed auto manufacturing to prosper even as Detroit’s Big Three have languished under pressure from their union contracts.

“The president the other days said the auto bailouts saved the American auto industry,” Alexander said. “Well, what I believed saved the American automobile industry is the right-to-work law because it created a situation where manufacturers could make here what they sell here.”
However, the NRLB spokeswoman told TheDC that the complaint had nothing to do with politics or penalizing Boeing for setting up shop in a right-to-work state.

“The machinists’ union brought these charges to us,” she said. “The regional folks looked into these charges, and they found there was enough evidence to bring these charges to the judge.”

She also denied suggestions from some that NRLB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon’s actions against Boeing were motivated by pro-union biases, saying he has been a career NRLB attorney for the past four decades and that work on the complaint began during the tenure of his predecessor, a Bush appointee.

A hearing on the matter is schedule for Tuesday.