South Carolina wel­comes Boe­ing, hopes it stays

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY TIM DE­VANEY

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. | Boe­ing Co. means ev­ery­thing to this com­mu­nity.

At a time when jobs are hard to come by, the gi­ant aero­space man­u­fac­turer has given this small South­ern town a rea­son to hope by build­ing a $750 mil­lion plant here. It has put thou­sands of peo­ple back to work and flooded lo­cal stores and busi­nesses with more cash than they can imag­ine.

“We are so blessed to have Boe­ing here,” said Neil Whit­man, pres­i­dent of Dun­hill Staffing Sys­tems, a Boe­ing sup­plier in nearby Mount Pleas­ant. “We re­ally, re­ally are.”

That’s why the com­mu­nity here is so con­cerned about los­ing Boe­ing. The com­pany is fend­ing off ac­cu­sa­tions from the Na­tional La­bor Re­la­tions Board that it moved work away from Puget Sound, Wash., to pun­ish em­ploy­ees there for past strikes — even though the com­pany has cre­ated some 2,000 jobs there since de­cid­ing to go else­where.

If it loses the case, which could take years to re­solve, Boe­ing has said it might not be able to keep this plant open.

“That would be the most tremen­dous loss since the Civil War,” said Den­nis Mur­ray, one of Boe­ing’s Charleston em­ploy­ees. “We’d be left in sham­bles again.”

This is shap­ing up to be one of the big­gest la­bor dis­putes of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. The is­sue has at­tracted na­tional at­ten­tion. On June 17, mem­bers of Congress trav­eled here to in­ves­ti­gate whether the NLRB has over­stepped its au­thor­ity by ef­fec­tively try­ing to shut down this plant and elim­i­nate thou­sands of new jobs.

Repub­li­can lawmakers ques­tioned Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting gen­eral coun­sel, about the “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” com­plaint he filed against Boe­ing. They also heard tes­ti­mony from South Carolina stake­hold­ers, who could lose work if the NLRB suc­ceeds.

Rep. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Repub­li­can who rep­re­sents the area where the fac­tory is lo­cated, de­nounced the NLRB’s ac­tions on Boe­ing as “un­for­tu­nate.”

“I see it as an ab­so­lute joke be­ing played on the Amer­i­can peo­ple,” he said.

“This has been very, very hard on all of us in South Carolina,” agreed Rep. Trey Gowdy, an­other of the three South Carolina Repub­li­cans who will be at the hear­ing. “We need the work, we want the work, we’re hun­gry for the work.”

Mr. Gowdy said the NLRB law­suit will “fall flat on its legal face,” be­cause it is “un-Amer­i­can.”

Lo­cal unions are caught in the mid­dle.

Donna Dewitt, pres­i­dent of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, said she is happy to have more work here, but she is afraid Boe­ing did it the “wrong way.”

“We want jobs here in South Carolina,” she said. “We just want it to be done right. We feel like it’s wrong the way it was han­dled in Wash­ing­ton state.”

South Carolina is a right-towork state, which for­bids unions from mak­ing ei­ther mem­ber­ship or the levy­ing of dues a con­di­tion of em­ploy­ment.

Mean­while, a fed­eral ad­min­is­tra­tive-law judge is con­sid­er­ing whether to dis­miss the NLRB’s com­plaint against Boe­ing.

This is the first step in what’s ex­pected to be a long legal battle that could take years. The NLRB filed the com­plaint April 20. The case started June 14 in Seat­tle, and the judge likely will take a month or two to rule. The los­ing party can then ap­peal the de­ci­sion to the la­bor board. Af­ter that, the case could go through the fed­eral court sys­tem and pos­si­bly all the way to the Supreme Court.

Boe­ing is con­fi­dent it will even­tu­ally pre­vail in the fed­eral court sys­tem, but wouldn’t be sur­prised if it loses be­fore the la­bor courts, which it main­tains are con­trolled by NLRB.

Some are con­cerned that the un­cer­tainty sur­round­ing this case will en­cour­age other com­pa­nies to leave the coun­try.

“Boe­ing’s a suc­cess story,” said Fred Ws­zolek, spokesman for the Work­force Fair­ness In­sti­tute. “They’re one of the man­u­fac­tur­ers that makes things here and ex­ports there. They’re what we need more of in Amer­ica.”

Since com­ing here, the com­pany has made an im­me­di­ate im­pact on the town. Boe­ing opened the plant for train­ing two weeks ago, af­ter two years of plan­ning and con­struc­tion. Work­ers will start build­ing the first 787 Dream­liner in July.

By 2013, the goal is to build three planes a month here. Their ef­forts will com­ple­ment the seven planes a month the com­pany ex­pects from the orig­i­nal plant in Puget Sound, Wash.

Boe­ing is quickly win­ning fa­vor with the com­mu­nity. The com­pany has promised to bring 3,800 jobs here, when all is said and done. So far, they’ve hired more than 1,000 work­ers. It’s an ex­cit­ing time for North Charleston.

“Ev­ery­body in South Carolina has just been very wel­com­ing and gen­er­ous to us,” Boe­ing spokes­woman Candy Es­linger said. “The com­mu­nity it­self just seems to be re­ally in­volved in what we’re do­ing and in­ter­ested in what we’re do­ing.”

JEREMY LOCK/SPE­CIAL TO THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

Ready to go: Boe­ing assem­bly me­chanic Thomas Rooks works June 15 in the 787 Dream­liner aft-body assem­bly build­ing in Charleston, S.C. The new fi­nal assem­bly build­ing will house the sec­ond 787 Dream­liner fi­nal assem­bly and de­liv­ery fa­cil­ity. The build­ing can house two 787 Dream­lin­ers wingtip to wingtip. Boe­ing will be able to de­liver three air­planes per month.

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