Knoxville News Sentinel: Alexander weighs in on Boeing dispute

Senator says 'right-to-work' laws threatened by federal action

Posted on May 11, 2011

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander warned Tuesday that a federal agency's efforts to stop aircraft-maker Boeing from opening a plant in South Carolina would have far-reaching consequences that could make it difficult for other states to recruit businesses.

"I can't think of one single action that would make it harder to bring new jobs to Tennessee," the Republican said.

Alexander and other GOP lawmakers also announced plans to file legislation later this week that would preserve state right-to-work laws and prevent the National Labor Relations Board from moving forward with its complaint against Boeing.

"This is not just about South Carolina," Alexander said. "It's about every state in the country. It's about whether or not the manufacturers of this world should be able to make in the United States what they sell in the United States."

The labor board's complaint against Boeing has caused an uproar not only in South Carolina, but also among business groups and congressional Republicans who charge it is putting thousands of jobs in jeopardy and hindering free enterprise.

The complaint, filed on April 20, accuses Boeing of violating federal labor law by moving a second production line for its 787 Dreamliner from a union plant in Washington state to a nonunion factory under construction in South Carolina. The complaint sided with unions in Washington, which contended Boeing picked South Carolina for the new production line because it feared strikes at its Puget Sound plant.

South Carolina is a "right-to-work" state, while Washington is not. Nationwide, 22 states, including Tennessee, have right-to-work laws that mean workers cannot be required to join a union.

At a press conference Tuesday, Alexander stood alongside South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and other GOP lawmakers who demanded the White House speak out against the labor board's complaint against Boeing.

Alexander recalled how, when he was governor of Tennessee, he persuaded Nissan to build a plant in Smyrna in 1980, even though the state had almost no auto jobs at the time. One of the big selling points, he said, was Tennessee's right-to-work law.

General Motors, Volkswagen and other manufacturers have since followed Nissan into Tennessee.

Alexander said the legislation he intends to file with South Carolina's two U.S. senators -- Republicans Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint -- would protect right-to-work laws and explicitly clarify that the labor board cannot order an employer to relocate jobs from one location to another.

It also would guarantee an employer the right to decide where to do business in the United States.

Plus, it would protect an employer's right to speak freely about the costs of a unionized workforce without fear that such communication could be used as evidence in an anti-union discrimination claim.