Republicans decry labor board over Boeing complaint

Several Republican lawmakers on Tuesday called on President Obama to push back at a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint against Boeing.

The lawmakers are upset with the labor board’s April 20 complaint that Boeing allegedly retaliated against unionized workers in Washington state by building a production plant for its new Dreamliner jet in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

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That complaint has set off a lobbying campaign by business groups and sparked outrage among Republican lawmakers who say the action could cost the Southern state vital jobs.

The fight has been an unwelcome distraction for a White House that has been trying to improve its relationship with business groups.

President Obama agreed to a tax deal favorable to business in December, announced a regulatory review earlier this year that drew corporate cheers and has sought to move three trade deals through Congress that are opposed by organized labor. 

Yet the administration has watched as the NLRB has become a popular GOP punching bag. Business groups in Washington have heavily criticized the complaint, and it has become an issue in the 2012 Republican presidential contest, in which South Carolina holds an early primary. 

Speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) and several GOP lawmakers — such as Sens. Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) — took turns criticizing the Obama administration for the complaint. 

“This is an issue that may have started in South Carolina, but we want to make sure it never touches another state,” Haley said. “We are demanding that the president respond to what the NLRB has done. This goes against everything we know our American economy to be.” 

As governor of an early primary state, Haley is seen as a vital endorsement for 2012 GOP presidential candidates. The first-term governor has already asked publicly that GOP contenders weigh in on this issue. 

The backlash against the complaint has also taken hold in the nation’s capital. 

In response to the complaint, Alexander is preparing to introduce legislation designed to protect right-to-work states’ rights. In a letter last week, 19 Republican senators asked Obama to withdraw his nominations for Lafe Solomon as the labor board’s general counsel and Craig Becker as a member of the board. 

Becker, a former associate general counsel to both the Service Employees International Union and AFL-CIO, was recess-appointed to the board last year after his confirmation was blocked in the Senate. Solomon’s action against Boeing has earned him the same opposition among GOP senators.

“[Obama] can remove Mr. Solomon, who will never see the light of day in the Senate,” Graham said. 

Other senators pinned the blame on the president for the labor board’s complaint. 

“He’s responsible for this board. He’s stocked it with his people,” DeMint said. The South Carolina senator also called the complaint “thuggery” and “something you would expect in a Third World country, not in America.”

Paul suggested the complaint showed that the White House had an “enemies list” consisting of GOP-leaning, right-to-work states.

“Mr. President, do you have an enemies list? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina appears to be a Republican state, has two Republican senators? Is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina is a right-to-work state? Are they on your enemies list?” Paul said.

Graham also noted that the administration has officials who work for or have worked for Boeing, such as White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley, who served on the company’s board, and Jim McNerney, the company’s CEO, who is chairman of the president’s exports council. He said Obama should defend them from the labor board’s complaint. 

In response, labor allies defended the board Tuesday. 

Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director for American Rights at Work, said the board was protecting workers’ rights with its complaint against Boeing. 

“The complaint itself follows the agency’s thorough investigation of Boeing’s attempt to avoid workers having a voice on the job at its Washington state facility,” said Freeman Brown in a statement. “That’s hardly a radical departure from the NLRB’s mandate, and it’s certainly not an attack on the economy, states’ rights or even so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws.”

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said Tuesday that Republicans were peddling “misinformation.”

“This overly dramatic response and the disturbing misinformation they are peddling has needlessly complicated the legal process and distorted the public discussion of this case,” Harkin said in a statement. “Unions are one of the few voices left in our society speaking up for the little guy, and if we let powerful CEOs trample all over these rights without consequences, we might as well give up on having a middle class altogether.” 

In a statement Monday, Solomon, the labor board’s acting general counsel, said he only authorized the complaint “alleging that certain statements and decisions by Boeing officials were discriminatory under our statute” after a thorough field investigation and legal review. 

The complaint now moves toward a hearing before an administrative law judge, scheduled for June 14 in Seattle.

This story was originally posted at 1:14 p.m. and updated at 8:18 p.m.