For the professional bureaucrat, telling businesses where they can or cannot locate their operations might be the next logical step after telling them what they can or cannot pay employees. But for the entrepreneurs and businessmen who are keeping our economy afloat, the attempts of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to dictate in what states businesses can operate represent job-killing policies our economy can’t afford.
When the time came for the Boeing Co. to upgrade its facilities to manufacture more of its 787 Dreamliner, the company decided to build a new plant in South Carolina rather than expand its existing facilities in Washington state. The decision was based, at least in part, on South Carolina’s business-friendly policies. South Carolina is a right-to-work state, meaning employees decide for themselves whether to join a union.
Naturally, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), the union that “represents” certain Boeing employees, was outraged. Nevermind that the IAMAW’s own demands during initial negotiations over the new plant - to have a seat on Boeing’s board and a commitment from the company that future planes would be built in Washington - were part of the reason Boeing started looking elsewhere in the first place.
Enter the NLRB, the government agency that, depending on the administration, either oversees union activity or investigates unfair labor practices by business. The NLRB is trying to block Boeing’s efforts in South Carolina because, the board says, “its actions were motivated by a desire to retaliate for past strikes and chill future strike activity” in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. In a May memo, the NLRB also revealed that Chairman Wilma B. Liebman, a former union lawyer, may require businesses to provide information to and negotiate with the union before relocating if there’s any chance labor costs play into the decision.
Unions are also largely behind efforts to block free trade. Other nations are pursuing free-trade agreements with each other. Meanwhile, our agreements are blocked by unions demanding concessions. The result is that other nations have an advantage over the United States, especially in growing markets in South America and Asia.
These may be well-meant efforts of the federal government to protect American workers and help the economy. But the administration seems intent on instilling nationwide the very climate that drove Boeing to look outside Washington state for a more business-friendly setting. Add threats of tax increases to the increasingly desperate and restrictive union agenda, and you get the potential for job creators to go back to looking overseas for investment or growth. Creating an increasingly hostile place to do business is no way to attract business executives and innovators to the United States. Instead of looking for more business-friendly states, they’ll be looking for more business-friendly countries.
At a time of high unemployment, the arguments that unions protect jobs and salaries are compelling to many Americans, particularly union members. But until unions and their friends in government recognize that workers’ interests - as with the nation’s interests - lie with greater innovation and entrepreneurship, they represent a formidable barrier to those goals.
Meanwhile, even the Obama administration now recognizes that our failing kindergarten-through-grade-12 educational system has been hurt by teachers unions protecting incompetence and fighting against teacher accountability.
Companies want to hire people with basic language, science and math skills, and too many Americans graduate from our schools lacking those fundamental skills.
Unfortunately, it’s not just pro-union policies putting us at risk. This administration and Congress have helped make the long-term prospects for jobs and growth worse by vastly expanding the deficit, raising payroll taxes, fostering protectionism and creating massive new bureaucracies for health care. New ideas will bring America back to its rightful position as a global leader in economic strength and reliability. But in order for new ideas to flourish, we need to strip away the old, failing union policies that are holding us back.
Gary Shapiro is the president of the Consumer Electronics Association and author of “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream” (Beaufort Books, 2011).