Boeing-union fight could spill over to TN

June 28, 2011 2:00AM

July 11, 2011 The legal battle between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board could impact Tennessee’s ability to create jobs, notes the Tennessee Center for Policy Research’s Josh Fields. This article originally appeared in the Tennessean. by Josh Fields The clash between labor unions and businesses is a deep-rooted skirmish, creating fault lines that have helped to shape America’s political landscape. The latest quarrel is that between the National Labor Relations Board and Boeing Corp., and though it is taking place outside of Tennessee, the implications run deep beneath its bedrock. At stake in the battle is a $1 billion factory in South Carolina that Boeing hopes will be housing a production line of their new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet. The NLRB claims that Boeing is building the facility in South Carolina to punish the unions in Washington state for past strikes and high wages. The advantage that South Carolina has in luring companies like Boeing is their right-to-work status. Under right-to-work laws, you cannot be forced to become a member of, or pay dues to, a union. This incentivizes, as has been seen over the past 40 years, businesses to move or expand some production lines to states with these policies. Tennessee is one of the beneficiaries of this status. From major corporations to small operations, Tennessee has experienced a steady growth in its manufacturing base and economic output despite economic downturns and outsourcing nationwide. It is no accident that states with business-friendly climates attract business from other regions and other nations. Yet, the NLRB attack on Boeing indicates a disturbing trend. As the U.S. economy struggles to find its stride, the push from labor unions on existing facilities grows. Lack of job creation in those regions has put stress on union leaders to keep their grasp on expansion. Pressure also mounts on politicians dependent on union donations to keep them in power. It is important to note that Boeing isn’t cutting jobs but putting an additional plant in South Carolina. The implications here are dizzying. Given Tennessee’s business-friendly reputation, are the policies that help maintain its business prestige all for naught? Elected leaders on both sides of the aisle have staked their careers in maintaining and building an environment that sets Tennessee apart from other states. Moreover, Tennessee workers have benefited greatly from the economic freedom and helped to build the solid reputation of our labor force. Tennesseans should be concerned that unions now seek to prevent right-to-work states from scooping up those jobs. The NLRB appears to be doing its job to protect unions, but in reality it is merely protecting a monopoly at the expense of job growth and competition among the states to offer better economic climates. I believe unions in some cases should exist, but their abuse of power in this instance threatens to undermine many state-based policies that have led to substantial economic growth and job creation. This is not just a South Carolina problem. It could very well shake the foundation upon which Tennessee’s pro-growth economic foundation rests. Josh Fields is a research associate at the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, the state’s free-market think tank.