Feud over nonunion Boeing plant crosses state, party lines

McClatchy NewspapersMay 5, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from South Carolina and Washington state feuded Thursday over a bid by the top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board to prevent Boeing from making Dreamliner 787s at a nonunion plant near Charleston, S.C., instead of at its current hub in Everett, Wash.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who in the past has forced President Barack Obama to drop nominees and change Latin America policies, vowed to block the president's picks for the National Labor Relations Board in a mounting dispute over the Boeing plant in South Carolina.

"The NLRB's attacks against Americans who dare not to join a union and against businesses that choose to locate in states that protect workers' rights cannot stand," DeMint said. "The NLRB's actions threaten millions of American jobs in right-to-work states and encourage companies to take jobs and investment overseas."

Rep. Norm Dicks, a Washington state Democrat and longtime Boeing ally, said the Republicans should hold their fire and await the outcome of an administrative law judge's hearing on the dispute next month in Seattle.

Dicks, who was instrumental in steering a long-disputed $35 billion contract for Air Force refueling tankers to Boeing — and which eventually could be worth more than $100 billion — accused his GOP colleagues of political meddling.

"The attempt by this group of Republican (lawmakers) to muzzle the agency responsible for enforcing the National Labor Relations Act before the matter can be reviewed in a public proceeding is inappropriate and premature," said Dicks spokesman George Behan.

Rep. Tim Scott, R-S.C., whose district would be home to the new Dreamliner factory, sent Obama a letter signed by 38 GOP House members demanding that he fire NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon, who last month filed the case against Boeing.

White House spokeswoman Hannah August declined to comment on the letter.

Scott and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., plan to introduce legislation next week to prohibit the use of federal funds by the NLRB to pursue any complaint against Boeing.

Boeing, meanwhile, filed its formal response to a complaint brought last month by the NLRB's top lawyer accusing the Chicago-based aerospace giant of union busting by producing new Dreamliner 787s in Charleston instead of Everett.

Boeing said it would have decided to build the new Dreamliner plant in South Carolina even if past strikes and other labor disputes hadn't delayed production at the Washington state factory.

"Boeing's decision to place the second 787 assembly line in North Charleston was based upon a number of factors, including a favorable business environment in South Carolina for manufacturing companies like Boeing; significant financial incentives from the state of South Carolina; achieving geographic diversity of its commercial-airline operations; as well as to protect the stability of the 787's global-production system," the Boeing brief said.

Solomon said he won't withdraw his April 20 complaint in response to criticism by members of Congress and attorneys general, all Republican, who represent the 22 right-to-work states that allow workers to decide not to join a union that represents them.

Solomon is asking the NLRB to consider the complaint filed last year by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers on behalf of its 25,000 Boeing workers in Washington state.

Boeing spokesman Tim Neale declined to comment on the initiatives by Republican politicians rallying to defend his firm's right to build aircraft where it chooses to make them.

"We have been upfront about our disappointment at seeing the (NLRB) acting general counsel bring this complaint forward — and about our determination to fight this," Neale said. "We are confident that we're going to ultimately prevail. We just don't see any legal basis for this complaint."

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

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Boeing picks South Carolina for Dreamliner assembly line

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