NLRB lawyer: Boeing complaint 'not intended to harm' workers

National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Lafe Solomon defended the panel's complaint against airplane manufacturer Boeing at a meeting of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The NLRB complaint alleges that Boeing decided to build a plant that would produce 787 airplanes in South Carolina in retaliation for labor strikes by workers at its Puget Sound plant near Seattle.

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Facing a home-field advantage for opponents with the meeting being held in North Charleston, S.C., Solomon sought to cast it as a bigger than South Carolina residents who would be employed at the company's 787 plant there. 

"The issuance of the complaint was not intended to harm the workers of South Carolina, but rather, to protect the rights of workers, regardless of where they are employed, to engage in activities protected by the National Labor Relations Act, without fearing discrimination," he said in remarks submitted to the committee. "Boeing has every right to manufacture planes in South Carolina, or anywhere else, for that matter, as long as those decisions are based on legitimate business considerations."

Hours before Friday's hearing, Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) indicated that he called it because it looked like the NLRB's case was political.

In an interview with Fox News, Issa said he had questions about whether the White House was involved in Solomon's decision to prosecute the case against Boeing.

"Very clearly he has sole authority, so it’s a one-man decision, but this is an acting general counsel who has been nominated by the president, so there is an awful lot of political input," Issa said. "Three out of four appointees on the board are Obama appointees and there is a vacancy.”

Solomon responded Friday that his office was independent and that Congress shouldn't make the legal proceedings political either.

"My obligation to protect the independence of the Office of the General Counsel and the integrity of the enforcement process restricts my ability to offer insight into the decision-making here," he said. "I hope you will share my commitment that these proceedings not be construed as an effort by the Congress to exert pressure or attempt to influence my prosecutorial decisions in this case, which have been and will continue to be made based on the law and the merits and in a manner which protects the due process rights of the litigants."

He added that he came to the hearing "voluntarily out of respect for the oversight role of Congress."

"I will do my best to answer your questions, consistent with my obligations to the parties and to the American public with respect to the ongoing Boeing case," he said.

But "the adjudicatory process must be fair and impartial so that the parties’ due process rights, which are guaranteed by the Constitution, are preserved," he quickly added.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Attorney General Alan Wilson, both Republicans, testified before the committee, but neither shared Solomon's assessment of the Boeing case.

"This complaint is without legal merit or precedent and threatens the company's $6.1 billion annual impact on South Carolina's economy," Wilson said.

"The Board's audacity to file this complaint constitutes 'the shot heard round the business world,'" he added. "Companies around the globe are thinking twice about locating or expanding operations in this country – especially expansion to union states."

Wilson slipped up at one point during his testimony and referred to union leaders as "mob bosses."

"That may be popular here, but it may not be in Seattle," Rep. Issa responded as the friendly audience laughed.

Boeing opened the 787 plant in Charleston last week, but the NLRB complaint is ultimately successful, the company could be forced to build the planes it intends to build there in Seattle.

A judge in Seattle heard the opening arguments in the case Tuesday on a Boeing motion to dismiss. The case is expected to last several weeks.

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