When bad businesses break the law, it's not just bad for business -- it's bad for families, workers, and all of us as Americans. Last week, in retaliation for workers exercising legally protected rights, Boeing announced they would be moving a factory from Washington state to South Carolina.
Doing this is against the law. In fact, Boeing publicly admitted to it.
The umpire for disputes such as this is the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB), which brings both sides to the table, listens to the opposing arguments, and decides upon the merits of the case. The NRLB is a neutral agency appointed in a bipartisan manner that acts like a "courtroom" for labor disputes.
In the case of Boeing, the NRLB will deliberate upon the facts and then most likely confirm what others have already said, which is that Boeing broke the law. Whether you like it or not, moving a factory to punish workers for exercising their rights as Americans is against the laws on the books.
While Boeing engaged in this illegal act (and was summarily brought before the NRLB for a prolonged battle), their stock price has dropped by more than 3 percent since this was announced last week. Many financial analysts connect the depreciation of stock value directly to the labor dispute. Apparently, breaking the law is bad for business too.
Instead of working to reconcile their differences, comport corporate practices to the law, or attempt to fix the situation in any way, Boeing has now enlisted the Chamber of Commerce and numerous Republican politicians into a dishonest campaign to discredit the NRLB (which has Republicans on it, by the way).
The government is right to step in and protect workers' rights here, and the Chamber of Commerce is completely wrong. Their agenda is clearly to dismantle and defund the NRLB (an idea promoted openly by Newt Gingrich), so this way, corporations can operate with complete immunity to the law.
From our country's labor history, though, it is clear that the invisible hand of the market does not compute the human cost of lost limbs and lost lives on the factory floor. This is why it is necessary to have safeguards in the workplace, protections that are enforceable by law, and a "courtroom" for labor disputes when they arise.
Punishing workers for exercising their rights takes us back to those dark days when workers had no protections at all in the workplace. Americans already fought this fight 100 years ago, and our country should not go back to allowing child labor, employer negligence, and hazardous working conditions.
This reversal of rights is exactly what is being pursued by the U.S. Chamber, corporate lobbyists, and Republicans across the country. In erasing the protections gained by an earlier generation of workers, these bastions of big business are likely correct to suspect that it makes the cost of doing business cheaper.
Refusing to calculate costs paid by someone else is always cheaper. For example, look at the recent financial crisis caused by corporate malfeasance and the subsequent taxpayer funded bailouts. That's fairly cheap from the perspective of bailed-out banks, but it's not a very good deal for the rest of us in America. In fact, the moral hazard and haphazard volatility created in the economy is bad for all the other businesses in the market.
More vitally though, violating the rights of workers to satisfy the bottom line cheapens our country morally, and that is a cost we cannot afford. Attacking working families and the right to organize is simply un-American, and those participating in this power grab should be ashamed of themselves for pursuing such a reckless policy.
Politicizing this agency to score cheap political points, like the Chamber of Commerce is attempting to do, is dangerous for workers and businesses too. When there is no longer a "courtroom" for labor disputes, where will both sides go to reconcile their differences and help everyone to get back to work?
For all of those involved, persistent and irreconcilable conflict in the workplace is neither healthy nor productive. When the factory lines shut down, employers are not making money and workers are not making wages. Nobody works, nobody wins -- this is bad for business and bad for working families. But, sometimes it is necessary to shut down the line to send a message.
We all need to send the message to the U.S. Chamber and these reckless corporations that breaking the law is bad for business too. When there is conflict in the workplace, workers should have a place to settle their differences with employers. The NRLB acts as a neutral arbiter in labor disputes -- let's keep it that way. Let's all tell the Chamber of Commerce to leave the NRLB alone and let them do their job.