Say It Ain't So, Joe

When Joe Nocera was promoted from The New York Times business section to an op-ed column of his own, I was ambivalent. On the one hand, this rather neo-liberal writer has been somewhat radicalized by the financial crisis. He had been doing good work in the business section, and it was good to have a relatively liberal writer expert in finance joining the lonely voice of Paul Krugman on the op-ed page.

Nocera, seemingly, had come a long way since his days as a naive celebrant of the allegedly democratized investment economy, epitomized in a truly dreadful 1995 book whose subtitle says it all: "A Piece of the Action: How the Middle Class Joined the Moneyed Class."  

If only.

On the other hand, several financial crises later, Nocera still has a neo-liberal soul. A few columns ago, Nocera wrote a piece reflecting on his four months as the Times' newest regular on the op-ed page.

"In the four months since I began writing an Op-Ed column, the thing that has most surprised me is how darned liberal I sound sometimes.... Early in my career as a journalist, I had a mentor, Charlie Peters [editor of the Washington Monthly] who believed strongly that it was important for liberals to criticize various wrongheaded tenets of liberalism....

In Texas [at the Texas Monthly], where I started writing about business, my views evolved further. Businessmen were not the embodiment of evil, as liberals sometimes seemed to think. Some regulations made sense, but others did not. And so on. I came to see myself as a pragmatist who favored common-sense solutions over ideology.

Then came the financial crisis. I like to joke that there's nothing like a good financial crisis to turn you into a liberal."

Well, yes.

On the other hand, one of the prime tenets of neo-liberalism is that unions have ceased to be good guys. So repentant anti-regulator Nocera, in his most recent column, doubled down on that shibboleth. And he also got in some misplaced whacks at regulation for good measure.

The target: the National Labor Relations Board, which has awakened from a long, Republican-induced coma and is actually beginning to enforce workers' rights to join unions and collectively bargain, without management retaliation, as required by the Wagner Act.

In a column, with the unfortunate title, "How Democrats Hurt Jobs," Nocera offered a rendition of the NLRB's decision in the Boeing case worthy of National Review. The airline manufacturer, long based in the Puget Sound and long mostly unionized, created 5,000 new non-union jobs in North Charleston, South Carolina. The NLRB, after exhaustive investigation, found that the move was a deliberate attempt to punish the union.

But Nocera, taking the company version of the story, considers it preposterous that the NLRB would tell a corporation where to situate its jobs. But the entire issue is one of intent. If a company shifts work in order to intimidate or punish a union, it is breaking the law.

Nocera wrapped his union-, agency-, and Democrat-bashing into a disingenuous plea for job creation. But that is not the issue here. The only question is where the jobs will be created, whether they are union or non-union, and whether Boeing is illegally punishing the International Association of Machinists.
In fact, the NLRB complaint documents the fact that corporate executives explicitly told Boeing investors, employees, and the news media that the new jobs were being created in South Carolina specifically because of the machinists' union's past work stoppages. This, said the NLRB complaint, amounted a punishment of or employees for exercising their legal right to strike.

Kudos to the NLRB for finally protecting the rights of workers. You can read the NLRB complaint, and make up your own mind.

If you want the company perspective, consult Nocera.

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