In our view: NLRB Case Weaker

Obama addresses Boeing issue, and he doesn’t sound supportive of the feds

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Finally, on Wednesday, President Barack Obama had something to say about the National Labor Relations Board’s brash action against Boeing.

Here’s the setup: More than a year and a half ago — in October 2009 — Boeing announced it would open a second assembly line in South Carolina. In April 2011, the NLRB announced its intention to reverse that decision.

In mid-May, The Columbian asked three questions in an editorial: Why doesn’t the federal government work this hard to keep jobs from moving overseas? Why did it take the NLRB more than a year to oppose Boeing’s decision? And why was President Barack Obama expressing no opinion on the NLRB action against the Seattle-based aviation company?

Obama broke that silence on Wednesday, and although he essentially sidestepped any formal position, some of his observations did not seem at all supportive of the NLRB. Obama explained his prolonged silence on the matter: “(The NLRB is) an independent agency and it’s going before a judge, so I don’t want to get into all the details of the case.”

But then he apparently fueled the critics who have correctly complained about the federal government trying to stop a private company from expanding its operations into a right-to-work state.

Obama noted at a press conference: “As a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate. They have to follow the law, but that’s part of our system.” Precisely. We couldn’t agree more.

Obama also said, “What I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would be shutting down a plant (in this case the Boeing plant in South Carolina) or laying off workers because labor and management can’t come to a sensible agreement.”

Indeed, the NLRB’s action against Boeing defies common sense. The agency has tried in vain to explain its belief that Boeing’s decision showed “animus” toward the International Association of Machinists — with whom the company has had numerous disputes in Seattle — and that opening an assembly line in South Carolina was “retaliation.”

Really? How could that be, with Boeing adding 2,000 IAM jobs in Seattle since the South Carolina announcement?

Of course, Republicans are gaining traction in decrying the NLRB’s action. That’s to be expected. But if Obama needs more advice on this issue, perhaps he should listen to a few Democrats. One would be Charleston Mayor Joseph B. Briley: “Clearly, (the NLRB) is an independent agency and is taking an action that I know was not directed by the president, but in this case I think it was a very, very bad decision and a huge mistake that is not good policy for the country.”

Another Obama ally worth listening to is John Bryson, the president’s choice to head the Commerce Department. Bryson is a former Boeing board member, and last week at a Senate confirmation hearing he said the NLRB action against Boeing is “not the right judgment” and that Boeing was “doing the right thing for the country” by keeping the jobs domestic instead of taking them overseas.

According to The Associated Press, this case could drag on for years. But in our opinion, the sensible strategy is for the NLRB to stop its action against Boeing. Don’t just take our word for it. Listen to what President Obama said on Wednesday: “We can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we’re competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to sell goods all around the world … And obviously, the airplane industry is an area where we still have a huge advantage. I want to make sure that we keep it.”

Are you listening, NLRB?