A Note from Sen. Lamar Alexander
Posted: Wednesday, May 18, 2011 8:01 pm
By: Sen. Lamar Alexander
This week I joined with South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, along with 31 additional Republican senators, to introduce the Job Protection Act, a bill to preserve the federal law’s current protection of state right-to-work laws.
This bill is a response to a complaint filed by the acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) 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 into one of 22 states with a right-to-work law.
(A right-to-work law protects a worker’s right to join or not join a union when he or she applies for a job anywhere in that state. Specifically, the Job Protection Act would, first, explicitly clarify that the NLRB cannot order an employer to relocate jobs from one location to another; two, guarantee an employer the right to decide where to do business within the United States; and, three, protect 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. Let me explain why this issue has such breathtaking scope. Up until the NLRB 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, the labor relations within a state, as well as the geographical location of the state.
The reason the decision by the NLRB’s 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.
This should concern every middle-class family in America, and here’s why: Thirty years ago, I was Governor of Tennessee when we were the third poorest state. My goal was to raise family incomes by creating an environment in which they could be raised.
At a White House dinner with the nation’s governors, President Jimmy Carter said to us: “Governors, go to Japan. Persuade them to make in the United States what they sell in the United States.”
Off I went to Japan, where I met with the Nissan officials in the fall of 1979. At that time, Japanese companies were not making here what they sold here—Nissan was making the cars and trucks it sold here in Japan. But Nissan was also 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.” Being in the center of the country meant reduced shipping and transportation costs.
Then the next decision was: Where in the center did they want to go? The states north of us did not have right-to-work laws. Tennessee and the states around us did. Nissan chose Tennessee, and their plant and the General Motors plant that came later and the Volkswagen plant and thousands of suppliers have helped our middle class earn higher incomes over the last 30 years.
Today, a third of our manufacturing jobs are auto jobs because we provided an environment in Tennessee where automakers could compete in the world marketplace. Nissan says that soon it will be making in the United States 85 percent of what it sells in the United States, which makes Nissan a very “American” company.
This is what we want.
But the decision by the NRLB’s acting counsel throws 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 signals to these companies that they cannot make that decision. And it would send American jobs overseas in pursuit of an environment where they can build and manufacture competitively. This is a matter that I hope attracts Democratic as well as Republican support. The bill I introduced with Senators DeMint and Graham preserves right-to-work laws across the country. It preserves the choices of employees. It preserves the right of American businesses to make their own decisions about where to locate.