Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Job Protection Act

Posted on May 12, 2011

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I have come to the Senate floor today to introduce, on behalf of 34 Senators, the Job Protection Act.

The Job Protection Act is occasioned by a decision by the acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board that filed a complaint to stop the Boeing Company from building airplanes at a nonunion plant in South Carolina, suggesting that a unionized American company cannot expand its operations in 1 of 22 States with a right-to-work law. The right-to-work law protects workers' rights to join or not join a union. For example, in Tennessee we are a right-to-work State. In the case of a Saturn employee, where United Auto Workers is the bargaining agent, a worker doesn't have to join the union or pay dues, but he has to accept the UAW as his bargaining agent.

At the Nissan plant a few miles away from the General Motors plant, workers have three times elected not to have a union as their bargaining agent. That is what a right-to-work State is. There are 22 of them. The State of New Hampshire is in the process of deciding whether to become the 23rd. Their legislature is of one view, and their Governor is of the other view.

The Job Protection Act, which I introduce today on behalf of 34 Senators, would preserve the Federal law's current protection of State right-to-work laws in the National Labor Relations Act and provide necessary clarity to prevent the NLRB from moving forward in their case against Boeing or attempting a similar strategy against other companies.

Specifically, the Job Protection Act would, first, explicitly clarify that the board cannot order an employer to relocate jobs from one location to another; two, it guarantees an employer the right to decide where to do business within the United States; and, three, it protects an employer's free speech regarding the costs associated with having a unionized workforce without fear of such communication being used as evidence in an anti-union discrimination suit.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record the names of the 34 Senators who are original cosponsors of the Job Protection Act.

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at the end of my remarks two articles by the Wall Street Journal, the first written by me on April 29 and the second written by the president of the Boeing Company, Jim McNerney, who is also chairman of President Obama's Export Council.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered.

(See exhibit 1.)

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, now to make a few remarks about the actions that have caused this.

I just left a hearing in the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on the middle class. One of the witnesses was the general counsel of the Boeing Company. As might be expected, given the notoriety of this case and the breathtaking scope of it, he got a lot of questions.

Let me first say why there is such a breathtaking scope here. Up until the filing of the complaint, one would assume that a manufacturing company, such as Boeing or a smaller company that wanted to open a new plant to create new jobs could make its own decision about where to do that. Then in doing so, it could take into account such factors as the cost of labor. It could take into account such factors as the labor relations within a State, as well as the geographical location of the State and many other factors.

The reason the decision by the acting general counsel has attracted so much attention is it basically says -- or at least it suggests -- to any company manufacturing a product in a State which is not a right-to-work State, such as Washington, that you better think twice before you open a new production line in one of the right-to-work States.

Let me talk for a moment about why that has an impact on the middle class in America. Thirty years ago I was Governor of Tennessee. We were the third poorest State. My goal was to raise family incomes and to create an environment in which they could be raised. I was a young Governor, but I knew enough to know the government did not raise the incomes but it might create a good environment for that to happen.

I went to my first White House dinner with the President of the United States. The President was then Jimmy Carter. The President said to us Governors at a very nice dinner -- just the Governors and their spouses and the President and Mrs. Carter: Governors, go to Japan. Persuade them to make in the United States what they sell in the United States. I remember I called Dean Rusk, who had been Secretary of State, and asked him to visit with me. I talked to him about how to do this.

Off I went to Japan, which is not something I planned to do when I was walking across Tennessee trying to be the Governor. I met with the Nissan officials in Tokyo in the fall of 1979. At that time, Japanese companies seemed so powerful that there were books coming out saying they might take over the United States economy, but they were not making here what they sold here. They were making Nissan cars and trucks in Japan. They were making a decision about where to locate in our country. I took with me a photograph of the United States at night taken from a satellite. They asked: Where is Tennessee? I said: It is right in the middle of the lights. That reduced the shipping and transportation costs. Then the next decision was: Where in the center did they want to go? Every State north of us did not have a right-to-work law. Tennessee and the States around us did. Nissan chose Tennessee, and they and the General Motors plant that later came and the Volkswagen plant and thousands of suppliers have helped our middle class raise incomes over the last 30 years. A third of our jobs are auto manufacturing jobs because we provided an environment in which automakers can compete in the world marketplace.

Nissan said today that soon they will be making in the United States 85 percent of what they sell in the United States, which makes them a very American company. That is what we want. But this decision says we throw a big wet blanket over all the auto suppliers and manufacturers who might be thinking about moving into Tennessee or opening new plants in Tennessee or suppliers who might be wishing to follow Boeing to South Carolina because it says you cannot make that decision.

We have never had that kind of law in the United States. We have had a right-to-work law on the books since 1947. States have a right to adopt it or not to adopt it. The legislation I am offering today on behalf of 34 Senators does not change that, but it does preserve the right of States to adopt a right-to-work law, the right of employees to join or not to join a union, and the right of employers to make decisions about where to locate their plants and their ability to speak in public about what they are doing. This is a most consequential decision. It is one that deserves the attention of every Senator because as the Boeing chairman, who is the head of President Obama's Export Council, wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week, a union State would not be able to attract a manufacturer because a manufacturer might be afraid that any expansion could never be done in a right-to-work State. By simple mathematics, if Boeing, which is our largest exporter -- 155,000 employees in the United States, another 15,000 around the world -- has a disincentive or if it cannot expand a new production line in a right-to-work State and if it might think twice about expanding in any other State, then where is it going to go? It is going to go to some other country.

This decision by the acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board is the single most important action I have seen in years that would rush American jobs overseas in pursuit of an environment in which they can build and manufacture competitively. It is just the reverse of what President Carter said to the Governors 30 years ago when he said: Governors, go to Japan. Persuade them to make here what they sell here.

We did that. They came here. They are making 85 percent of what they sell here. We want Volkswagen to do that. We want General Motors to do that. We want Ford to do that. We want Boeing to do that. And if we say to them, But we are going to tell you, the Federal Government is going to tell you where you have to locate your plants, you are going to override section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act which was passed in 1947 and which has created an environment which has permitted American manufacturing to succeed.

All one has to do is read David Halberstam's book "The Reckoning" in the late 1980s to see that if our entire auto industry were still locked in Detroit, it would not be as competitive as it is today -- cars made in America. I know that firsthand because I saw it happen when Nissan came to Tennessee. They did not hire a bunch of people from Japan to run the plant. They went to Detroit. They got Ford executives who knew how to run a plant but were not allowed to by the environment there, and they put them at a start-from-scratch place and created the most efficient automobile plant in North America.

We welcome also the General Motors plant and the United Auto Workers to their Spring Hill location in Tennessee. That is what a right-to-work State is where you can choose to join a union or not to join a union. Both can operate. Employees make the decision.

But when the Federal Government starts telling any company -- a Boeing or a Boeing supplier, an auto company or an auto supplier or any manufacturing company -- you cannot locate in a right-to-work State, they probably will not locate in a non-right-to-work State. Where are they likely to go? Mexico, Europe, Japan. Boeing sells airplanes all around the world. It can make airplanes all around the world. If we persist in policies such as this, instead of having a situation where our largest exporter has 170,000 employees, more than 150,000 of which are in the United States, we will turn that right upside down and they will be making 85 percent of their airplanes in the countries where they sell them, and the United States will have a lot fewer jobs.

This is a consequential matter that I hope attracts Democratic as well as Republican support. It preserves the right-to-work law. It preserves the choices of employees. It preserves the decision of corporations to make their own decisions about where to locate. It would stop a Federal Government regulation which is the single most effective action I know about to chase American jobs overseas and lower family incomes.