(Updates with comment from union official starting in sixth paragraph.)
May 5 (Bloomberg) -- 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. 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, where it has assembled its aircraft since 1916, because it retaliated against striking unions by building a South Carolina factory for the 787 Dreamliner.
The board’s 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.
“Boeing, with the help of South Carolina politicians, is making this a political issue, and trying to win it politically, because they know they won’t win it in the courts,” Tom Wroblewski, president of the International Association of Machinists District 751 in Seattle, said in an interview today. “They’re shifting this to a political fight against the NLRB.”
The labor board said Boeing chose South Carolina over adding a line in Washington state because of the union’s history of strikes in the Puget Sound area. Boeing doesn’t have to shut the South Carolina plant as long as it opens another production line in Washington, according to the remedy outlined by the board.
Boeing “has enough outsourced work all around the world that they could fill that building in South Carolina a hundred times over,” Wroblewski said. The factory is almost finished and scheduled to begin operating in July.
A spokesman for Boeing declined to comment on the letter from the House Republicans. The company, which moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001, sent a letter May 3 saying the NLRB mischaracterized the company’s position.
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 said that “from our perspective, the second line in South Carolina was retaliatory.”
Efforts failed during six months to settle the case, Solomon said. He disagreed with Republicans who said the complaint 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.
Senator Protest Nominees
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 NLRB 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.
“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, was retaliating for labor strikes at its Seattle-area hub, violating workers’ rights.
The attorneys general in an April 28 letter demanded that the board withdraw the complaint. 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 before an administrative law judge in Seattle.
Boeing decided to open its new 787 line in South Carolina in 2009, after talks with the Machinists failed to produce a longer contract that would have protected it from work stoppages. Boeing has since expanded plans for the new facility, saying it wants to fully replicate the work done in Washington.
Boeing has assembled its commercial jets near Seattle since 1916, when lumberman Bill Boeing built his first wooden float plane in a Lake Union boathouse. 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.
--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert
To contact the reporters on this story: Stephanie Armour in Washington at email@example.com; Susanna Ray in Seattle at firstname.lastname@example.org
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