Boeing remains on sidelines while GOP pushes anti-NLRB bill

Boeing is not endorsing a House Republican bill limiting the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) powers, even though the company’s dispute with the agency provoked the legislation. 

Rep. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) bill, which the House is expected to approve Thursday, would curb the labor board’s legal authority by prohibiting it from ordering a company to relocate its workers. 

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Scott wrote the bill after the NLRB filed a complaint against the aerospace giant for starting a production line for its new 787 Dreamliner jet in right-to-work South Carolina. The company did so after Boeing executives expressed worry about work stoppages at their unionized operations in the state of Washington.

The NLRB decided Boeing opened the production line in South Carolina instead of Washington to punish union workers, which would violate U.S. law. 

The defense contractor disagrees with the complaint, arguing that it created new work at the South Carolina plant and did not eliminate jobs in Washington. Boeing invested $1 billion to create the plant, bringing 1,000 new jobs to the state while adding another 5,000 union jobs at its Washington operations.

The decision has sparked a fury in conservative circles, with most of the Republican candidates for president condemning the NLRB. Republicans say the decision highlights regulatory overreach by the Obama administration, which they say has expanded the role of government. 

Boeing, however, will not get behind congressional action and would rather the NLRB just withdraw its complaint, a spokesman said. 

“Boeing’s efforts are focused on educating interested parties about the facts of the complaint,” said Sean McCormack, vice president for communications for Boeing’s government operations, in a statement. “We continue to believe the issue would be best addressed by the NLRB withdrawing its complaint. Boeing has not endorsed any specific piece of legislation that might address our case.”

Boeing has had tough words for the NLRB. 

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in May, Jim McNerney, the company’s chairman, president and CEO, said the NLRB complaint was “a fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained America’s competitiveness since it became the world’s largest economy nearly 140 years ago.”

The complaint is now being considered by an administrative law judge. If it is held up, Boeing would be required to maintain the production line in Washington but would not have to close its facility in South Carolina.

Boeing is in a tough spot when it comes to the GOP bill, experts said, because if it is approved, it would drastically change labor law. While the law would likely void the NLRB complaint against Boeing, it might also have unforeseen consequences, some of them negative, for employers. 

Julius “Jack” Getman, a labor law professor at the University of Texas, said Boeing’s neutrality demonstrates that employers are wary of changes in labor law that typically favor them over workers.

“I could see why employers wouldn’t want to do this. They have a system that is doing quite well for them. There’s only 6 percent unionization in the private sector,” Getman said.

Getman helped coordinate an open letter that nearly 250 academics signed onto, stating that Scott’s bill “would go well beyond overruling the [NLRB’s] acting general counsel’s actions in the Boeing case.”

“If enacted, it will give tacit permission to employers to punish any segment of their workforce that chooses to unionize or to exercise the right to strike by eliminating their jobs,” the letter said.

Unions are also urging the House not to pass the bill. In a letter sent Wednesday to lawmakers, the AFL-CIO said the legislation “would remove one of the only tools available to the board for preventing work from leaving the U.S.”

The Scott bill seems unlikely to go anywhere while the Senate is in Democrats’ hands, though Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has already begun pushing for its approval. 

Graham said he did not believe the bill would have a broad effect on labor law. 

“I think the bill is very limited. The bill basically says the NLRB will not have the remedy available to them to shut down a facility and relocate a business,” Graham said. “Relocating a business after a billion-dollar investment should not be a remedy available to an unelected bureaucracy. That destroys the ability to create jobs in this country. … It creates a veto power that’s unhealthy.”

Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said in an email that Reid has no plans to bring Scott’s bill to the Senate floor for a vote if it passes the House.

Business groups and conservative activists are pushing hard for the bill to pass the House. The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and U.S. Chamber of Commerce as well as the Club for Growth have told lawmakers that they are scoring votes on the legislation.

Both NAM and the Chamber have also sponsored separate radio ad campaigns targeting the labor board.

Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy of Americans for Prosperity, said the conservative activist group has sent out an email alert to its 1.8 million members in support of Scott’s bill. It has also purchased Web ads and is organizing office visits. 

“We are focusing on office visits in some of the districts where we think some of the Republicans need shoring up and where some of the Democrats might be persuadable,” Kerpen said.

This story was updated at 8:23 a.m.