The NLRB is on very tenuous ground here and will almost certainly lose in court. But one expert in these matters was telling me yesterday he wouldn’t be surprised if the game is to try to harass Boeing into agreeing to some sort of card check-like process to unionize the South Carolina facility.
That would consistent with our observation in the May 10 post, “NLRB Already Talking About ‘Settlement’ in Boeing Case.”
The term of art is a “neutrality agreement,” in which a company agrees with a labor union not to request a secret-ballot election if the union attempts to organize a facility. Often management goes that route after suffering a corporate campaign (or threat of a corporate campaign) in which the union blackens the reputations of the company and its executives.
But in this case, it’s the National Labor Relations Board leading the corporate campaign in support of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The strategy make sense politically: Attack the critics, pummel the opposition into staying quiet. You can see it being played out in Congress, too. On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), evoked the Founding Fathers and “checks and balances” into decrying any criticism of the NLRB. From The Congressional Record:
This kind of interference is inappropriate, it is disgraceful and dangerous.We wouldn’t allow threats to prosecutors or U.S. attorneys trying to stop them from moving forward with charges they see fit to bring to the courts, and we shouldn’t stand for this. It may not be illegal, but it is no better than the retaliation and intimidation that is the fundamental question in this case, and it should stop.
The Founders are telling critics of the NLRB to shut up? Well, in this case, it’s Congress and the states in the form of attorneys general that are providing the checks and balances to restrain a runaway federal agency.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) followed up Wednesday on the Senate floor, arguing in effect that the NLRB should be above criticism because it is an independent Executive Branch agency. The Senator conceded he did not know all the facts of the case, but knocked Boeing around and made the union’s arguments. He then declared:
What is happening in this case is that the powerful and the big are trying to manipulate the political system. Powerful corporate interests are pressuring Members of this body to interfere with an independent agency rather than letting it run its course.We should not tolerate this interference. We should turn our attention to the issues that matter to American families — how we can create jobs in Washington, and, yes, in South Carolina, in Iowa, and across the country…
If we recall correctly, the Founders believed in freedom of speech and freedom to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Sen. Harkin continued his line of argument at the Thursday HELP Committee hearing, “The Endangered Middle Class: Is the American Dream Slipping Out of Reach for American Families?,” a hearing that turned into a review of the NLRB complaint against Boeing. The company’s general counsel and executive vice president, Michael Luttig, was a witness and before questioning him, Harkin commented:
It borders almost on unethical activity…to begin to interfere in a judicial process, and to color that judicial process, and to try to make it a political matter. Make statements on whether or not we think it’s right or wrong, but it’s gotten into an area where — misinformation.
Chairman Harkin introduced Luttig’s salary into the debate, the counsel’s significant raise last year, the wages of workers in unionized Washington State and the lower wages in South Carolina. The Senator then challenged Luttig to address these issues in the context of the middle class. (Luttig’s response was excellent. See our transcription.)
This kind of invidious comparison, albeit mild as practiced in Thursday’s committee setting, resembled a familiar union line of attack in corporate campaigns: Labor targets individual executives for being greedy and exploiting the workers. And isn’t this kind of criticism an example of Congress “politicizing” the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing?