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Congressional Republicans meddle with NLRB case that involves Boeing

The NLRB is months, if not years, away from determining whether Boeing built a manufacturing plant in South Carolina to punish its unionized workers in Everett, Wash. But that hasn't halted the GOP's brazen campaign of interference.

June 26, 2011|Michael Hiltzik

The process won't be short or easy, even without the GOP's hysterical posturing. Rep. Issa opened his hearing (staged in the South Carolina community that hosts the Boeing plant) by announcing that the NLRB case would have "disastrous consequences." His star witnesses against the NLRB included a corporate labor attorney, a local headhunter employed by Boeing, a local Boeing employee and Alan Wilson, the attorney general of South Carolina.

Wilson took a swipe at the union, claiming that its last strike "caused customers to question whether or not to buy from Boeing ever again." That's amusing, because Boeing claims that the 787 is the fastest-selling aircraft in history and that it has 850 orders in hand.

Boeing has also confessed that when the machinists struck in 2008 the 787 was already 15 months behind schedule — chiefly because the company had outsourced engineering and parts manufacturing around the world and failed to manage that process competently.

Among the problem locations were — hello — South Carolina, where a manufacturing subcontractor turned out such wretched work that Boeing had to take over the operation, at a cost of $1 billion. If customers have any doubts about Boeing, the reason is more likely management ineptitude than union activity.

Issa and his GOP colleagues maintain that the NLRB action is a union-inspired assault on "right-to-work" states and therefore on the working person's right to be free of union oppression. So it's proper to examine the effect of "right-to-work" laws.

There's no consistent evidence that "right-to-work" laws contribute materially to economic growth. The 22 "right-to-work" states generally rank among the poorest in the nation: The only two with average household incomes higher than the U.S. median are North Dakota and Wyoming, which have tiny workforces. South Carolina ranks 45th in median household income at $41,101.

There are indications, however, that business proprietors in those states keep more of their income, meaning that less of it trickles down to workers — a clue to why managements like Boeing's may be so enamored of the South Carolinas of the world.

This is, of course, the American malady — a race to the economic bottom in which decisions are made to benefit managers and shareholders at the expense of the workforce or, indeed, the product. The trend is certainly enabled by the decline of union representation, which has shrunk from more than 20% to less than 12% just since 1983, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is roughly the same period in which the middle class has lost its grip on the benefits of economic growth and productivity.

And this is the trend that "right-to-work" advocates and their water carriers in the GOP seek to perpetuate. One has to ask: Why aren't President Obama and congressional Democrats pushing back, hard, against this brazen campaign of interference with the legal deliberations of an independent government agency? Or are they content to stand by while the American worker is led further down the road to serfdom?

Michael Hiltzik's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. Reach him at mhiltzik@latimes.com, read past columns at latimes.com/hiltzik, check out facebook.com/hiltzik and follow @latimeshiltzik on Twitter.

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