WASHINGTON, D.C. | May 5, 2011
Republicans Rally Behind Boeing Over Complaint by U.S. Labor Board
By Stephanie Armour
U.S. House Republicans demanded that the National Labor Relations Board provide information about its decision to file a union-retaliation complaint against Boeing Co. (BA) for building an airplane factory in South Carolina.
The House Education and the Workforce Committee gave the board until May 19 to submit documents and communications between a regional office that investigated the case and the national office, according to a letter released today by the Republican chairmen of the committee and a subcommittee.
The board filed a complaint against Boeing on April 20, saying it should add a production line in Washington state because it retaliated against unions by building a South Carolina factory for the 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
The action is an “extraordinary remedy that requires Boeing to relocate its operations across the country,” Representatives John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the committee, and Phil Roe of Tennessee, chairman of the panel on health, employment, labor and pensions, wrote in the letter.
Lawmakers, state officials and Boeing have joined in criticizing the board, with Republican senators urging President Barack Obama to withdraw the nomination of Lafe Solomon, NLRB acting general counsel, who filed the case. Boeing has faced increased labor tension, with a strike by engineers and four by the Machinists union since 1989, including a two-month walkout at the end of 2008.
Solomon said in an interview yesterday that he won’t withdraw the complaint, which he said was investigated by the NLRB’s regional office and sent to Washington for further action.
“I didn’t go seek this case,” Solomon said. “It isn’t that I had some agenda to go get this case. This case came to me and I decided on the facts and the law.”
Solomon also said that “from our perspective, the second line in South Carolina was retaliatory.”
Efforts failed during six months to settle the case and Solomon said he proceeded with the complaint. He disagreed with Republicans who said the case targets South Carolina because it is a right-to-work state, where labor agreements can’t require workers to join a union to get a job.
“It’s not legally significant to our case,” Solomon said.
A group of 19 Republican U.S. senators demanded in a separate letter to Obama the withdrawal of the nominations of Solomon and Craig Becker, nominated as a Democrat to the board and criticized for his ties to labor unions including the AFL- CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation. The senators also criticized the Boeing complaint in a letter yesterday.
‘Act of Intimidation’
“We consider this an attack on millions of workers in 22 right-to-work states, as well as a government-led act of intimidation against American companies,” according to the letter from Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, and 18 colleagues.
Attorneys general from nine states also have criticized the NLRB’s complaint, which said Boeing, the world’s biggest aerospace company, located a facility in South Carolina to retaliate for labor strikes at its hub in the Seattle area. It alleged the 2009 decision violated workers’ rights.
The attorneys general in an April 28 letter demanded that the board withdraw the complaint. Boeing sent a letter May 3 saying the NLRB mischaracterized the company’s position.
Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on May 3 said they would introduce an amendment to prevent the NLRB from taking action against Boeing.
A hearing on the Boeing case is scheduled June 14 by an administrative law judge in Seattle.
The NLRB said Boeing chose South Carolina over adding a line in Washington state because of strikes. Boeing doesn’t have to shut the South Carolina plant as long as it opens another one in Washington, according to the remedy outlined by the board.
The company decided to open its new 787 line in South Carolina in 2009, after talks with the Machinists union failed to produce a longer contract that would have protected it from work stoppages. Boeing has since expanded the South Carolina plans, saying it wants to fully replicate the work done in Washington.
Boeing has assembled its commercial jets in the Puget Sound area since 1916, when lumberman Bill Boeing built his first float plane in a boathouse on Seattle’s Lake Union. The company in 2003 said it would build the planned new 787 Dreamliner at its widebody-jet factory in Everett, just north of Seattle, after Washington state approved tax breaks valued at $3.2 billion over 20 years to keep Boeing from moving work elsewhere.
Boeing, which is now based in Chicago, has said it has the right to build factories outside of the Seattle area.
To read the letter from Chairman Kline and Subcommittee Chairman Phil Roe, please click here.