Contrary to appearances, the NLRB didn't bow to political pressure or try to defuse a potential issue for President Obama's re-election. Rather, the settlement was a quid-pro-quo for Boeing's agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement with the International Association of Machinists so union workers will build the 737 Max jet in Washington state. The Wall Street Journal wonders:
Has there ever been a more blatant case of a supposedly independent agency siding with a union over management in collective bargaining?Talk about a "rogue" agency (in the words of Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.)). Although the NLRB formerly said it found no evidence "that Boeing failed to bargain in good faith" with its Washington state unions, the agency managed to force a new deal, puting a thumb on the scales of management-union relations and discouraging expansion in right-to-work jurisdictions. Plus, because it was a "voluntary" settlement, the agency worked its will while avoiding judicial review.
Boeing says the new contract wasn't tied directly to a settlement of the NLRB complaint, and that it always made sense to build the 737 Max in Renton, Washington because its work force has experience on the current 737 and offers natural efficiencies.
But it's hard to resist the conclusion that Boeing felt obliged to make the agreement to save its more than $1 billion investment in South Carolina, where it is building 787s. Boeing might have won a legal battle in the end, but first it would have to run through an administrative law judge, then the politicized and Obama-stacked NLRB, and only then would it get to an appellate court. Meanwhile, its investment was in jeopardy and its legal bill was rising.
As for the NLRB, its decision to drop the case so quickly after the machinists cut their deal exposes how politically motivated the Boeing suit was. The NLRB is supposed to be a fair-minded referee in labor disputes, making sure neither side breaks the law. But the board put its fist squarely on the union side to make Boeing pay a price for moving one of its 787 assembly lines to a right-to-work state, to make sure Boeing never did that again, and to demonstrate to any other unionized company that its investment is at risk if it makes the same decision.
By dropping the case, the Obama team at the NLRB can claim it delivered those lessons without ever having to contest them in court. Oh, and Democrats running for Senate in right-to-work states, like Tim Kaine in Virginia, are spared from having to endorse a union position that is unpopular because it costs their states jobs.
You can't really fault Boeing for capitulating to get a gun holstered after being pointed at its head. But bullying American manufacturers for Big Labor votes can only result in more outsourcing. Plus, it remains an alarming example of this Administration's willingness to play politics at the expense of the rule of law.