Commentary

Commentary

Acting NLRB Official Ignites National Debate Over Merits of 20th Century American Labor Law in 21st Century Global Economy

The NLRB’s General Counsel issues over 1,000 complaints against employers each year with little notice, but Lafe Solomon, sitting in the GC seat in an acting capacity, set off the largest debate in decades over the merits of the National Labor Relations Act by accusing Boeing of violating the law in having an open, honest discussion with its union before deciding where to locate a plant.  Although the aircraft maker had the clear right under both the law and its contract with the International Association of Machinists (IAM) at its Washington State facility to place work in South Carolina, the company decided to engage in extensive, candid discussions with the IAM to see if some of its concerns could be addressed so that the work could be located in Washington.  Ironically, had the company not held any discussions with the union, or had it not expressed its legitimate concerns about potentially devastating disruptions caused by work stoppages, there would have been no NLRB response.  Criticism of Mr. Solomon’s actions came from a variety of quarters. 

  • In an editorial, the Seattle Times criticized the NLRB, pointing out that "Boeing has increased employment of IAM members here since announcing the Charleston decision.  At planned production rates of 10 airplanes per month, seven of them will be assembled in [Washington], by Machinists" and "more than two years have gone by since Boeing's decision.  In South Carolina the company has invested $1 billion and hired more than 1,000 workers.  It's a done deal."  
  • The attorneys general of nine states sent a letter to Solomon asserting that the complaint was an “ill-conceived retaliatory action” that “seeks to destroy our citizens' right to work” and urged him to withdraw it immediately. 
  • Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour called out President Obama in a Wall Street Journal piece, saying that his “silence is not acceptable—not to me, and certainly not to the millions of South Carolinians who are rightly aghast at the thought of the greatest economic development success our state has seen in decades being ripped away by federal bureaucrats who appear to be little more than union puppets.” 
  • Even New York Times reporter, Steven Greenhouse who strongly favors organized labor, noted the NLRB's departure from precedent, writing "It is highly unusual for the federal government to seek to reverse a corporate decision as important as the location of a plant." 
  • HR Policy Association weighed in with a letter to key congressional committees urging them to press "Mr. Solomon to either provide an adequate explanation as to why his decision is not fully consistent with existing law or withdraw the complaint." 
  • Among the dozens of media stories this week, there was one by Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post which may be prophetic.  He writes that though we may find the NLRA "quaintly—or menacingly—socialistic, it is still the law of the land, one that Lafe Solomon and his NLRB colleagues have a duty to enforce.  If Boeing or the Chamber of Commerce or the South Carolina political establishment want to change or repeal the law, it is certainly within their rights to try.  After 75 years, it would be a useful debate for the country to have again.”