Conservatives are in an uproar that the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board has filed an unfair labor charge against Boeing. It seems the president of Boeing was unwise enough to blurt out that his company would move a production line to South Carolina as payback for past strikes by machinists in Seattle. It's a dead bang violation of the National Labor Relations Act, even if it comes as a surprise to Republicans and many other Americans.Umm...Proof please? And if production at one of my facilities was jeopardized by the near-constant threat of a work stoppage or walkouts, I'd probably start looking for greener pastures in a right-to-work state myself.
Section 7 of the Wagner Act, passed in 1935, states that all workers can engage in concerted activities without reprisal. The president of Boeing said, in effect: You exercise those rights and we're moving. Companies have long done such things, of course, but CEOs aren't usually so gaffe-prone as to say so.
The Boeing case may show that labor is so out of mind that CEOs have forgotten what they can or cannot say. It would have been easy enough for Boeing to move the production line to South Carolina and let the workers in Seattle draw the conclusion. There is little bar to a runaway shop if the CEO is careful with his public statements.
Yet the Boeing case has a scarier aspect missed by conservatives: Why is Boeing, one of our few real global champions in beefing up exports, moving work on the Dreamliner from a high-skill work force ($28 an hour on average) to a much lower-wage work force ($14 an hour starting wage)? Nothing could be a bigger threat to the economic security of this country.So higher wage equals higher skill set? Or just higher cost of living? Correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't there significant differences in taxes and cost-of-living between Washington State and South Carolina?
We should be aghast that Boeing is sending a big fat market signal that it wants a less-skilled, lower-quality work force. This country is in a debt crisis because we buy abroad much more than we sell. Alas, because of this trade deficit, foreign creditors have the country in their clutches. That's not because of our labor costs—in that respect, we can undersell most of our high-wage, unionized rivals like Germany. It's because we have too many poorly educated and low-skilled workers that are simply unable to compete.Wow? Really? Assuming you're still talking about the South, BMW didn't seem to put off by the 'poorly educated and low skilled' workers in the region- neither did Mercedes Benz. GE Transportation is poised to open up a second locomotive facility in Texas- another right to work state.
We depend on Boeing to out-compete Airbus, its European rival. But when major firms move South, it is usually a harbinger of quality decline. Over and over as a labor lawyer in the 1980s and '90s, I saw companies move away from Chicago, where the pay was $28 an hour, to some place in South Carolina or Louisiana where the pay was about half that. While these moves aggrieved me as a union lawyer, it might have consoled me as an American if those companies went on to thrive globally.Inferior schools like Detroit, where nearly half the population is considered functionally illiterate? Say...isn't Michigan a big union stronghold? Ah well, I'm sure the two aren't related in any way.
But too often, alas, it was the beginning of the end, as it was for Outboard Marine Corporation, where I once represented workers. In the 1990s the company went from the high wage union North to the low wage South and was bankrupt by 2000. There are reasons workers in the North get $28 an hour while down in the South they get $14 or even $10. Adam Smith could explain it: "productivity," "skill level," "quality."
Here is yet another American firm seeking to ruin its reputation for quality. Why? To save $14 an hour! Seriously: Is that going to help sell the Dreamliner? In terms of the finished product, the labor cost is minuscule: $14 in hourly wage, at most. It's incredible that conservatives claim such small differences in labor cost would be life or death to Boeing. It's not labor cost but labor skill that is life or death to the survival of Boeing, never mind pilots and passengers.
If the history of runaway shops proves anything, it's that many go "South" in more than one sense of the word. If that sounds unfair to the South, it is union busting that has inflicted the real unfairness in the region: income inequality and inferior schools.
At this moment especially, deep in debt, we cannot afford to let another company like Boeing self-destruct. Boeing is not a product of the free market—it's an extension of the U.S. government.Wow- so Boeing was nationalized when nobody was paying attention? Or is Mr Geoghegan arguing that the NLRB's decision the first step in that direction?
Over the years, our taxpayers have paid to create a Boeing work force with exceptionally high skills. That work force is not just an asset for Boeing—it's an asset for the country. Why should the country let Boeing take it apart?Ummm....because it's their company and allowing the NLRB to dictate to companies where they can and can't set up shop would be setting a very bad precedent that anybody but the densest union shill could see would have longer term consequences beyond a current labor-management dispute.
Every American should be rooting for the NLRB's general counsel, as the board itself has not yet found a violation.Am I not reading this correctly, or is Mr Geoghegan conflating '$14 an hour for an entry level position' with '$14 an hour from now until the end of time' because apparently workers down south don't get promoted or get raises or anything. OK, now that I think about it, Mr Champion-of-the-working class, where were you when I was earning less than $11 an hour- graveyard shift- with no benefits in a VERY blue/pro-union state with supposedly one of the most educated workforces in the country during the past 24 months?
Most depressing of all, Boeing's move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing. It is a message that corporate America has delivered over and over: Don't go to engineering school, don't bother with fancy apprenticeships, don't invest in skills. No rational person wants to take on college or even community college debt to come out and work on the Dreamliner—which should be the country's finest product—for a miserable $14 an hour.
If a single story in the news can sum up the reasons for America's global decline, it's the decision to build a Dreamliner that will gut the American dream.Yes...because if there's anything the Wisconsin union protests have taught me earlier this year, it's that union workforces should be exempted from making any sacrifices or concessions in these difficult economic times.