Weekly Column by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.): Putting a National Asset on Trial

Posted on June 17, 2011

All eyes turned to Seattle on Tuesday, June 14, when one of our nation's greatest assets and contributors to our economic future was put on trial for investing, creating, hiring, and innovating at a time when we are in the middle of an economic recession and more than 9 percent of American workers can’t find jobs.

On Tuesday, Boeing Company, the nation’s largest exporter and an employer of more than 150,000 American workers, appeared before an administrative judge in Seattle to defend itself against a complaint brought by the President’s appointed Acting General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, or NLRB, that Boeing’s decision to expand production of its next-generation airliner in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, was a violation of federal labor law.

Boeing is a solid and upstanding American success story. Over the last century, Boeing has built the passenger planes that allow Americans to travel the world; built the warplanes and weaponry that enable our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen to defend freedom; built the spacecrafts that send our astronauts into orbit and to the moon; and built the satellites that deliver communications around the globe.

Boeing's newest commercial passenger airliner is the 787 Dreamliner. It is a shining example of American innovation and entrepreneurship. It has been designed for efficiency and performance, to allow a mid-sized aircraft to travel as far as a jumbo jet while using 20 percent less fuel and producing 20 percent less emissions than today's similarly sized aircraft, and while traveling at roughly the same speed as a 747 or 777.

It has been a tremendous commercial success despite these difficult economic times. Since 2004, 56 customers, spanning six continents, have placed orders for 835 Dreamliners, valued at $162 billion.

But if the Acting General Counsel's request is affirmed following next week's hearing, it will be “essentially” illegal for a company that has experienced repeated strikes to move production to a state with a right-to-work law. Boeing’s chief executive pointed out that this will not only hurt the 22 right-to-work states. It will also hurt states that do not have right-to-work laws, because a company that operates in their state and is unionized will effectively be prevented from growing or expanding to a right-to-work state, therefore hindering the ability of any state to attract new manufacturers and create new jobs. So, instead of making it easier and cheaper to create jobs in the United States, manufacturers like Boeing will be incentivized to expand or open new facilities in Mexico, China, or India to meet their growing needs.

This may be the most important battle over labor laws in the United States today. American companies and our 22 right-to-work states are under assault from a government agency that is driven by an anti-business, anti-growth, and anti-jobs agenda.

The result of this trial will be a true test of whether manufacturers are able to make in the United States what they sell in the United States (and to other countries), or whether they will be encouraged to make overseas what they sell in the United States. It will test whether they put jobs over there, instead of creating them here. And it will test whether the Administration's economic policy is exporting airplanes or exporting jobs.

The bill that I have introduced with South Carolina’s Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, called the Job Protection Act, will prevent the NLRB from ordering a company to relocate jobs, will guarantee employer rights to decide where to do business, and will protect employer free speech associated with the costs and benefits of a unionized workforce. Our bill has 36 Senate cosponsors.

With a 9.1 percent unemployment rate, Washington must allow manufacturers such as Boeing to prosper, innovate, and create jobs. We need to make it easier and cheaper for those manufacturers to make in the United States what they sell in the United States.

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