WASHINGTON — Boeing found itself in a growing political storm Monday as GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited the company's new $750 million plant in South Carolina and House Republicans prepared to pass a bill aimed at stopping the federal government from interfering where companies can locate their facilities.
The maneuvers are part of an effort to use the Chicago-based company to prove that the Obama administration has gone overboard in protecting the interests of U.S. labor unions.
Visiting the plant before participating in a Republican presidential debate in Florida on Monday night, Romney said a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board to shutter the South Carolina plant is the White House's payback to labor unions.
In its complaint, the NLRB alleged that Boeing built its South Carolina plant in violation of labor laws to avoid using more unionized labor in Washington state.
Labor unions fought back by accusing Romney of trying to advance his personal interests, noting that he has financial holdings in Boeing.
In a conference call with reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Republicans are trying "to protect a company charged with breaking the law."
Asked whether he thought it was part of a "concerted attack" by the GOP, Trumka said: "Do you believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? Of course it's part of a concerted attack on labor. It's also an attempt to intimidate the NLRB so they don't enforce the law."
To help make its case, the AFL-CIO included a Boeing worker from Washington state in its conference call.
Patrick Bertucci, a third-generation Boeing worker from University Place, Wash., who has worked for the company for nearly 15 years, said he welcomed the NLRB's involvement: "I was proud to see someone standing up to defend our rights, even against a big company like Boeing."
Romney criticized the NLRB's decision to sue Boeing over its opening of the 787 Dreamliner plant in right-to-work South Carolina, saying the board's action had a "chilling effect on additional growth here in South Carolina."
South Carolina AFL-CIO President Donna Dewitt accused Romney of trying to score "cheap political points" for his election bid by supporting Boeing.
"Working people follow the law and so should Boeing," she said. "But Romney and other Republicans in Congress are using their political clout to attack federal law enforcers at the National Labor Relations Board — a neutral, independent agency — for asking Boeing to play by the rules."
Romney is not the only White House candidate seeking to capitalize on Boeing.
GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul jumped in on his website, saying Obama's support of the NLRB position was tantamount to a "war on jobs."
And on Capitol Hill, House Republicans said their Boeing legislation would be one of the first post-recess bills aimed at getting rid of regulations that inhibit job growth.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina and is scheduled for a vote on Thursday, his office said.
In a briefing with reporters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia referred to the NLRB complaint as an "overbearing action" and said he was concerned that the board was setting a precedent.
Scott said passage of his bill is "a very important move for all of us in America."
"What we want done is simply to say to the NLRB that you cannot move, shift or transfer jobs from one location to another location," Scott said. "That in essence is another start of a cultural war, another class warfare attempt by the president and by the NLRB to do this."
(James Rosen and William Douglas of the Washington Bureau and Wayne Washington of The State in Columbia, S.C., contributed.)
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