I never had a client who wanted a labour union. Sometimes it was expressed with hostility; usually, it was just matter of fact. Now, at least behind closed doors, the sense that there is a pro-union and anti-business mindset in the White House has created an almost palpable sense of reciprocal hostility. A National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) flap about where Boeing will assemble its new Dreamliners has been added to the bill of particulars.

It is reported that NLRB’s officials want to forbid Boeing from assembling Dreamliners at its new South Carolina plant (no union and a 'right-to-work' state); they want that production transferred back to Boeing’s other (unionised) Dreamliner plant in Washington state. The NLRB action is based on the idea that Boeing only created a plant in South Carolina to punish it for past strikes. Boeing had planned to use both plants.

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Regardless of how the matter is resolved, or whether Boeing – a highly regulated company and a major supplier to government – tries to 'settle' it, business advocates and Republican leaders have characterised even the consideration of such an action as radically anti-business. Silence from the White House when the issue was raised and the overt defence of this process by Democrat legislators have indelibly strengthened the Democrat party's already strong union label. 

Looking ahead, here are some thoughts:

  • If you are a new direct investor into the US, you may want to think hard about your initial location choices, especially if the government thinks it can challenge a company’s moving work from a unionised state to a right-to-work state.
  • If your business wants multiple sites to mitigate business continuity risks, do not mention strikes or slowdowns as one of those risks; talk about the weather or logistics.
  • If you are an investment promotion agency, help companies avoid relocation controversy by emphasising access to markets and talent and overall business friendliness, not the absence of unions. Companies already know all they need to know about unions.

Daniel Malachuk works with business and government leaders on global direct investment strategies. He has advised many of the world's leading companies and served in the US public sector as director of White House operations. E-mail: daniel.malachuk@gmail.com