Despite Boeing-union deal, Republicans pledge to keep heat on labor board

A tentative agreement between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists isn’t likely to quell Republican criticism of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). 

Republican lawmakers who have been critical of the NLRB say they still plan to keep pressure on the agency by working to deny it federal funding and new appointees. 

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The labor board came under heavy criticism this year after it filed a complaint against Boeing for allegedly retaliating against union workers by starting a production line in South Carolina. The agreement reached Wednesday between Boeing and the union could resolve the issue and spur NLRB to drop the complaint.

The NLRB has attracted GOP opposition for several other moves this year, including a proposal to speed up union elections. 

A spokesman for Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said the NLRB would remain under scrutiny despite expectations that the board’s complaint against Boeing will soon be dropped.

“All options remain on the table as Congress continues its efforts to safeguard the rights of workers and employers,” said Brian Newell, the spokesman for Kline. 

That includes continuing to push legislation that passed in the House earlier this year that forbids the NLRB from ordering a company to relocate its employment, which was inspired by the Boeing complaint. 

“We simply cannot allow a federal bureaucracy to tell a private employer where he or she can and cannot create jobs. House Republicans will continue to urge the Senate to take up this common-sense legislation, along with more than 20 other jobs proposals that will help put Americans back to work,” Newell said.  

GOP-led efforts to limit the labor board’s power will likely include attempts to attach provisions to appropriations bills that would reduce the agency’s funding. Republican senators are also expected to block new nominees to the NLRB. 

That could cripple the labor board because it is expected to lose its quorum at year’s end, when Craig Becker’s recess appointment expires.  

The NLRB filed its complaint against Boeing after the company started a new production line for its 787 Dreamliner jet in South Carolina, a right-to-work state. The labor board said that was retaliation against union workers, citing Boeing executives expressing concerns about work stoppages at their unionized operations in the state of Washington.

The Machinists originally brought the charge of retaliation by Boeing to the labor board. But on Wednesday, the union and Boeing announced a new four-year contract to build the new 737 MAX jet at union facilities in Renton, Wash., and elsewhere. 

“The issue was resolved where it should be resolved, which is at the bargaining table. The war against the NLRB was just that: a war against the NLRB. The Boeing case was an opportunity to launch that war,” said Frank Larkin, a spokesman for the Machinists. 

Union officials are happy with the deal, which preserves pensions for new hires and a 2 percent wage increase each year of the contract. 

Union members of a Machinists’ district affiliate, IAM 751, will vote Dec. 7 on the agreement. If ratified, the Machinists plan to tell the NLRB to drop its complaint. 

“If our members ratify the agreement, we would consider the legal matter at the NLRB resolved,” Larkin said.  

Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, said Wednesday that the agreement was “a very significant and hopeful development.” He said the labor board will be talking to both parties about the next steps in the process. 

Reacting to news of the agreement, Republican lawmakers offered measured praise for the new contract but offered harsh rebukes of the NLRB.

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said he “will continue to fight against the organization’s attempts to overreach their authority” and called the NLRB “a biased, politically driven organization.” 

Scott sponsored the bill that passed the House in response to the Boeing complaint. 

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) also pulled no punches when it came to the labor board. 

“Real and serious damage to America’s competitiveness has already been done,” DeMint said in a statement. “Those on the NLRB board who acted like union thugs and led this attack on workers’ rights should resign immediately.”