September 15, 2011 in Business, Nation/World

House to vote on bill targeting Boeing labor case

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are poised to express their anger over the government’s politically contentious labor case against Boeing Co. by passing a measure that would curb the National Labor Relation Board’s enforcement powers.

The bill would prohibit the agency from ordering an employer to shut down plants or relocate jobs, even if a company illegally retaliates against unionized employees by moving work.

Republican lawmakers say the board should not have the power to dictate where a private business can locate. Union leaders claim the bill would render toothless the board’s ability to enforce labor laws when companies simply eliminate work to get rid of employees who are pro-union.

The bill is likely to pass the GOP-controlled House easily today but isn’t expected to get far in the Senate, where Democratic leaders have no plans to let it come to a vote. It will serve as an issue for congressional and presidential candidates in the 2012 elections.

GOP lawmakers have vilified the NLRB for filing a complaint in April that alleges Boeing punished union workers in Washington state when it opened a new production line for its 787 airplane in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

South Carolina Republican Rep. Tim Scott, who sponsored the bill, says the board’s action threatens 1,100 jobs in his hometown of Charleston.

“My legislation will remove the NLRB’s ability to kill jobs,” Scott said. “The government, especially the unelected board, does not need to be involved in the business decision of the private sector.”

Republicans and their allies in the business community have gone after the NLRB for more than a year, as the agency has issued a spate of union-friendly decisions and rules. The Boeing case has become a major political issue and a rallying cry for GOP presidential candidates courting voters in South Carolina’s early primary stakes.

Democrats say the measure would give companies a free pass to punish employees for simply exercising their rights to organize.

“The bill before us guts the very fundamental rights of American workers to fight for better wages and working conditions and it makes it easier for companies to outsource American jobs overseas,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Boeing has denied the allegations, saying it opened the Charleston, S.C., plant for valid economic reasons. The case is pending before an administrative law judge in Seattle and could last years.

The complaint by the board’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, does not seek to shut down the Boeing plant. The company would be required to move the new 787 production line to Washington state. But Boeing officials say the South Carolina facility was built specifically for construction of the 787. The company says a ruling for the government would effectively require Boeing to close the $750 million plant and lay off more than a thousand new workers there.

Solomon said the decision to file a complaint was not politically motivated, but based strictly on evidence that Boeing violated the law. He said Boeing executives made a number of public statements indicating the new plant was built in South Carolina out of frustration over costly strikes by the Machinists union in Washington state, including a 58-day work stoppage in 2008.

“The decision had absolutely nothing to do with political considerations, and there were no consultations with the White House,” Solomon said in a statement this week. “Regrettably, some have chosen to insert politics into what should be a straightforward legal procedure.”

Boeing officials claim the board took the statements out of context and say they can point to a number of legitimate reasons for locating the new production line in Charleston.

President Barack Obama has not taken a formal position on the case, saying he is reluctant to interfere with an independent government agency. Obama has said companies need to have the freedom to relocate but must follow the law when doing so.

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