House Votes to Protect Boeing from Obama Meddling
The House voted to approve a Republican-backed bill that would prohibit the National Labor Relations Board from trying to block Boeing from operating a new $750 million aircraft assembly line in South Carolina. The largely party-line vote was 238 to 186.
Republicans denounced the labor board’s case against Boeing, asserting that the board was overreaching its authority and should not be dictating where companies can locate their operations. But many Democrats and union leaders condemned the legislation, arguing that it undercut an independent federal agency and favored Boeing, a potent lobbying force and prominent political donor.
Under the bill, an unusual effort to curb a federal agency’s actions in a pending case, the labor board would be barred from seeking to have an employer shut, transfer or relocate employment or operations “under any circumstances.”
The bill, called the “Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act,” is expected to face a battle in the Democratic-controlled Senate. In the House vote, the partisan divide was clear: only eight Democrats voted for the bill and only seven Republicans voted against.
Republicans have repeatedly criticized the board’s acting general counsel for filing a complaint against Boeing last April, accusing the company of building an assembly plant in North Charleston, S.C., as a form of retaliation against unionized employees in Washington State who have engaged in five strikes since 1977, including a 58-day-walkout in 2008.
The National Labor Relations Act prohibits companies from taking any actions, whether firing employees or relocating a factory, against workers for exercising federally protected rights that include forming a union or going on strike.
Republicans asserted that the N.L.R.B.’s move was causing some foreign companies to think twice about opening operations in the United States, while Democrats said the bill would speed the exodus of American jobs overseas.
Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said: “This legislation represents an important step in the fight to get our jobs back on track. It tells job creators they don’t have to worry about an activist N.L.R.B. telling them where they can locate their business.”
But Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, said the bill “would be devastating to workers across this country.”
“It makes it easier to shift jobs overseas,” he said. “It eliminates the only remedy to force companies to bring back work from overseas. This outsourcers Bill of Rights is not only bad for the interests of workers, it’s bad for the economy at large.”
The Boeing case is pending before an administrative law judge, who is to decide whether to order Boeing to move the South Carolina production plant, which assembles 787 Dreamliners, to Washington State. The House bill has a retroactivity clause that would bar the labor board from seeking such an order.
Republicans argue that the bill would still let the labor board pursue many other remedies, among them back pay, although the opening of the assembly line in South Carolina has not caused any layoffs of Boeing workers in Washington State. But officials with the machinists’ union say 1,800 may soon be laid off after the new plant gets up to speed.
The labor board’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, said on Wednesday that his decision to file a complaint against Boeing “was based on a careful investigation and a review of the facts under longstanding federal labor law.”
“The decision had absolutely nothing to do with political considerations, and there were no consultations with the White House,” he said. “Regrettably, some have chosen to insert politics into what should be a straightforward legal procedure. These continuing political attacks are baseless and unprecedented.” The general counsel is independent from the full labor board and prosecutes cases asserting unfair labor practices.
To prove that Boeing’s move was retaliatory, Mr. Solomon pointed to statements by top Boeing officials saying their unhappiness over past strikes motivated them to build the South Carolina plant. But Boeing officials say South Carolina’s low production costs were the reason behind the move.
Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, applauded the House vote. “The N.L.R.B.’s actions are having a chilling impact on job creation and causing a great deal of uncertainty for manufacturers throughout the country,” he said. “Today’s vote is just one step in the process of reining in this rogue agency.”
More than 250 professors signed a letter criticizing the legislation as “unprecedented interference with a pending legal proceeding for the benefit of a particular employer.” They said the legislation would severely diminish the board’s power to move against employers that illegally retaliate against unionization efforts or protests over working conditions by moving their operations elsewhere. They note that the bill would bar the labor board from bringing actions like the one against a California jewelry manufacturer that announced it was shutting its California operation and moving it to Mexico after its 118 workers voted to unionize. After a federal judge ruled that the company’s move was an illegal, retaliatory action, the jewelry company agreed not to move the plant.