Democrats pivot from Boeing battle to broad defense of unions

House Democrats pivoted off Republican criticism of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Tuesday to mount a full-throated defense of labor unions.

Senior House Democrats, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), rallied union members at a press conference where lawmakers and labor leaders blasted Republicans for attacking the labor board. The House is expected to vote this week on legislation that would limit the NLRB’s authority.

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Pelosi and other Democrats said the GOP bill is evidence that Republicans want to marginalize the labor movement.

“For months in Wisconsin, Ohio and states nationwide, Americans have watched Republican governors and legislatures attack workers. At every turn, leaders and middle-class Americans — teachers, firefighters, machinists and even non-union members — have fought back. What an inspiration you all are to us,” Pelosi said.

The minority leader declared that her party is ready for action now that the fight over unions has come to Washington.

“We will not stand idly by while workers’ rights are violated and the middle class is under attack,” Pelosi said.

Republicans and business groups have lambasted the NLRB in recent months, arguing some of its decisions could drive jobs and investment dollars away from the United States. In a press release Tuesday, Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee said the panel is offering sensible reforms to the labor board, whose “job-destroying agenda” has been left unchecked.

The bill “is a responsible proposal that helps rein in the extreme power of the NLRB. This unelected board should not be able to dictate to private employers where they can and cannot create jobs,” according to the statement.

Labor has long been an ally of Democrats, but the relationship with the party has been strained this year. The grumbling has been directed mostly at the White House, which disappointed unions with moves to the center on trade and government regulations.

But legislation designed to limit the NLRB’s authority offers a chance for Democrats to renew the old alliance. The support of union members will be essential for Democrats next year as the party tries to retake the House and win a second term for President Obama.

The legislation introduced by Republicans would forbid the NLRB from forcing a company to relocate its employment.

The bill was approved by the House Education and the Workforce Committee last week on a party-line vote. The House Rules Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill Tuesday; it is expected to receive a House floor vote later this week.

The legislation comes in response to the labor board’s April 20 complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union workers.

The company moved a second production line of its new Dreamliner jet to South Carolina, a right-to-work state that typically prohibits mandatory union membership, after Boeing executives worried that work stoppages at their unionized Washington state operations could hurt business. The move was allegedly retaliation against union workers, according to the NLRB complaint, which is now before an administrative law judge.

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Democrats say the bill would sway the ongoing trial in favor of Boeing and gut the labor board’s authority by forbidding it it to punish companies that relocating to avoid unionization. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, has called the legislation “an outsourcer’s bill of rights.”

“I would just add it sounds like an outsourcer’s bill of wrongs to me,” Pelosi said Tuesday.

Other Democrats took action Tuesday to defend the labor board. Democratic members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee wrote a letter to the panel’s chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), to ask for a full committee debate and vote before issuing any subpoena for NLRB documents in the Boeing case. Issa has threatened to subpoena the documents in the past.

“We believe that forcing the production of these non-discoverable documents at this time would unduly interfere with this legitimate law enforcement action and would constitute an inappropriate use of the committee’s authority for the benefit of a private party, Boeing,” the letter reads. 

The Democrats’ letter also went beyond the issue of a subpoena, arguing that the GOP-led committee has sought to undermine the labor board.

“This request also appears to be part of a broader strategy to significantly weaken the NLRB,” the letter continues, citing a hearing by the committee that criticized the labor board, a failed House vote to defund it and the expected House vote this week that would limit the NLRB’s authority.

A GOP spokesman for the committee said Democrats are shirking their oversight responsibilities to protect unions.

“Ranking member [Elijah] Cummings [Md.] and committee Democrats appear more interested in NO-versight than in conducting oversight of a potentially job-killing action by the NLRB," said Jeffrey Solsby, a committee spokesman, in an email. “This letter is just the latest in an ongoing, coordinated campaign to appease labor groups and union workers leading into a pivotal election year.”