Tur­bu­lence over new Boe­ing plant in S.C.

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY TIM DE­VANEY

Nei­ther side is budg­ing in an in­creas­ingly bit­ter fight over aero­space gi­ant Boe­ing’s plans to start pro­duc­tion on its 787 Dream­liner fleet at a new $2 bil­lion plant in South Carolina, a move the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board says was made to pun­ish the com­pany’s union work­ers.

NLRB of­fi­cials in­sist they are sim­ply en­forc­ing ex­ist­ing la­bor laws, re­ly­ing on state­ments and in­ter­nal ev­i­dence from Boe­ing that they say clearly show com­pany of­fi­cials dis­cussing the South Carolina in­vest­ment as a way to cir­cum­vent its union, in vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral law.

But Boe­ing, lead­ing busi­ness groups and nearly two dozen Repub­li­can sen­a­tors say the board, now dom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Obama’s ap­pointees, has greatly over­stepped its au­thor­ity and in­ter­fered with a pri­vate busi­ness de­ci­sion, all to pla­cate Mr. Obama’s la­bor sup­port­ers.

“Why should com­pa­nies in­vest in ex­pand­ing busi­ness in the United States if, at the drop of a hat, a fed­eral bu­reau­crat can sim­ply re­verse that de­ci­sion and de­stroy that in­vest­ment?” asked Sen. Or­rin G. Hatch of Utah, one of 19 GOP sen­a­tors who signed a letter to Mr. Obama two weeks ago vow­ing to block the nom­i­na­tions of top NLRB of­fi­cials if the Boe­ing de­ci­sion is not re­versed.

The Busi­ness Roundtable, a col­lec­tion of some of the nation’s largest cor­po­ra­tions, said in its state­ment that the April 20 NLRB ac­tion, which calls for Boe­ing to bring the jobs planned for South Carolina back to Wash­ing­ton state, “rep­re­sents a dras­tic de­par­ture from NLRB and Supreme Court prece­dent.”

While rel­a­tively ob­scure, the NLRB has long been a flash point in union-man­age­ment re­la­tions. La­bor lead­ers com­plained the agency did lit­tle to pro­tect union rights and col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing un­der for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush, and now busi­ness groups fear the Obama-dom­i­nated board will take an ac­tivist stand against busi­ness in­ter­ests.

The Boe­ing com­plaint has also caused an up­roar in South Carolina, long a right-to-work state, where GOP Gov. Nikki Ha­ley, the state’s two Repub­li­can U.S. sen­a­tors and many of the state’s lead­ing news­pa­pers warn the NLRB ac­tion has put in jeop­ardy a ma­jor job-cre­at­ing in­vest­ment for the state.

“No gover nment agency should in­flict such point­less ex­pense on com­pa­nies for mak­ing what have long been legal busi­ness de­ci­sions,” the Charleston Post and Courier said in an editorial.

The stakes in the case are not triv­ial, with work­ers putting the fin­ish­ing touches on what will be a $2 bil­lion man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­ity for Boe­ing in South Carolina that has al­ready cre­ated some 1,000 lo­cal jobs.

Chicago-based Boe­ing, the world’s largest aero­space com­pany, wanted to start pro­duc­tion on its highly touted Dream­liner fleet at a new plant in North Charleston, S.C., in July, to sup­ple­ment pro­duc­tion at the com­pany’s ex­ist­ing union­ized op­er­a­tions in Wash­ing­ton state.

In its de­fense, Boe­ing notes that it isn’t cut­ting jobs or pro­duc­tion in the Puget Sound area of Wash­ing­ton state and has added more than 2,000 po­si­tions

“We’ve been up­front about the fact that one of those rea­sons [for the South Carolina plant] had to do with the his­tory of strikes we have had in Puget Sound,” Boe­ing spokesman Tim Neale said. “We be­lieve that legally com­pa­nies are en­ti­tled to take things like la­bor his­tory into ac­count when de­cid­ing where to in­vest.”

there since the 2009 de­ci­sion to open a sec­ond pro­duc­tion plant else­where.

“If this is Boe­ing’s way of in­tim­i­dat­ing em­ploy­ees,” said Fred Ws­zolek, spokesman for Work­force Fair­ness In­sti­tute, an ad­vo­cacy group that has long been crit­i­cal of the NLRB, “it sure seems like a strange way of go­ing about it.”

But the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Ma­chin­ists and Aero­space Work­ers in Seat­tle, backed by the NLRB, wants the sec­ond fa­cil­ity to be based in Wash­ing­ton as well. They ar­gue that Boe­ing orig­i­nally planned to build the plant there, and that the com­pany changed its mind to pun­ish the union for past strikes. They have video­tapes they think can prove this al­le­ga­tion.

“The key thing here is mo­ti­va­tion,” said NLRB spokes­woman Nancy Clee­land. “In our com­plaint, we al­lege they made it very clear to the union mem­bers they were do­ing this to re­tal­i­ate against them.”

Boe­ing con­tends that shift­ing some for the Dream­liner pro­duc­tion to North Charleston is a smart busi­ness de­ci­sion, not a means of re­tal­i­a­tion.

“We’ve been up­front about the fact that one of those rea­sons [for the South Carolina plant] had to do with the his­tory of strikes we have had in Puget Sound,” Boe­ing spokesman Tim Neale said. “We be­lieve that legally com­pa­nies are en­ti­tled to take things like la­bor his­tory into ac­count when de­cid­ing where to in­vest.”

Boe­ing was caught off guard by the com­plaint. The stakes are much higher now with re­ports cir­cu­lat­ing that the com­pany has al­ready in­vested $2 bil­lion in a nearly com­pleted fa­cil­ity.

But the NLRB said it warned Boe­ing of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion more than a year ago in March 2010.

Mr. Ws­zolek said the NLRB ac­tion is chill­ing busi­ness in­vest­ment across the coun­try. Boe­ing’s in­vest­ment could be for naught, while sup­pli­ers who started in­vest­ing in the area will also be harmed, he said.

“It’s a ‘job-de­stroy­ing ma­chine,’ “ he said, adding new un­cer­tainty to in­vest­ments in right-to-work states and, po­ten­tially, forc­ing Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers to con­sider in­vest­ing over­seas.

In their letter to Mr. Obama, the 19 GOP sen­a­tors de­manded he with­draw his nom­i­na­tions of NLRB Acting Gen­eral Coun­sel Lafe Solomon and board mem­ber Craig Becker, the two men who are largely seen as re­spon­si­ble for the com­plaint.

The sen­a­tors say Mr. Obama was “cir­cum­vent­ing the will of the U.S. Se­nate” when he ap­pointed both Mr. Solomon and Mr. Becker to their NLRB posts. The Se­nate re­jected Mr. Becker’s nom­i­na­tion in Fe­bruar y 2010, and never got a chance to vote on Mr. Solomon, a ca­reer NLRB at­tor­ney.

Sep­a­rately, a group of at­tor­neys gen­eral from nine states also de­manded the NLRB with­draw the com­plaint. The ini­tial court date for the com­plaint is set for June 14, but it could take months or years to re­solve.

The NLRB filed its com­plaint against Boe­ing on April 20. De­spite the up­roar, Mr. Solomon in­sisted in a May 9 state­ment that the agency was stand­ing its ground.

“Con­trary to cer­tain pub­lic state­ments made in re­cent weeks, there is noth­ing re­mark­able or un­prece­dented” about the Boe­ing ac­tion, he said in the state­ment.

“The com­plaint in­volves mat­ters of fact and law that are not unique to this case, and it was is­sued only af­ter a thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion in the field, a fur­ther care­ful re­view by our at­tor­neys in Wash­ing­ton, and an in­vi­ta­tion by me to the par­ties to present their case and dis­cuss the pos­si­bil­ity of a set­tle­ment.”

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Boe­ing’s 787 Dream­liner takes off from Hous­ton’s Ge­orge Bush In­ter­con­ti­nen­tal Air­port. The plane is one of seven test mod­els. Boe­ing plans to start pro­duc­tion at a new $2 bil­lion plant in South Carolina, which is be­ing op­posed by the NLRB.

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