Amid Boeing flap, House approves bill to rein in labor agency

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 15, 2011 

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Thursday passed Republican legislation to place new limits on the chief federal labor agency in response to its bid to prevent Boeing from running a jet-manufacturing plant in South Carolina.

The 238-186 vote fell primarily along party lines. The vote, which would restrict actions of the National Labor Relations Board, was preceded by almost two hours of often passionate debate on the House floor, with Republicans accusing Democrats of stifling job growth and Democrats accusing Republicans of killing workers' rights.

Eight Democratic lawmakers broke ranks and joined 230 Republicans in voting for the bill. All came from right-to-work states like South Carolina that prohibit requiring union membership as a condition of employment, among them Reps. Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler of North Carolina, John Barrow of Georgia and Henry Cuellar of Texas.

Seven Republican House members also broke ranks to vote with 179 Democrats against the measure, including Reps. Michael Fitzpatrick and Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania, and Don Young of Alaska.

While the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act is expected to die in the Democratic-controlled Senate, its House passage is a major legislative victory for Rep. Tim Scott, a first-term South Carolina Republican whose coastal congressional district is home to the new Boeing plant.

"Today's vote is important for our entire nation as well as for my home district in South Carolina, where the NLRB is currently pursuing an agenda which, if successful, would kill thousands of jobs," Scott said.

Rep. Jay Inslee, a Washington state Democrat, said he hasn't taken a position on the dispute between Boeing, a major employer in his state, and the machinists union, which represents thousands of workers at the aerospace giant's factories there.

Inslee, though, criticized GOP lawmakers for trying to interfere with the work of an independent federal agency.

"The NLRB is a law-enforcement body," Inslee said. "Elected officials should not be politicizing an ongoing judicial process."

An NLRB administrative law judge in Seattle is weighing the case. It started in April when Lafe Solomon, the agency's top lawyer, filed a complaint citing evidence that Boeing built the North Charleston, S.C., plant to retaliate against its Washington state union workers for past strikes.

Defying the regulatory action, Boeing opened the factory in June and is starting to make 787 Dreamliner planes there to fill what it says is a large backorder from airlines that already have bought the cutting-edge jets and are awaiting delivery.

The dispute could take a year or longer to resolve as it moves to the full National Labor Relations Board, and then through the federal courts on likely appeal from whichever side loses in the agency's ruling.

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McClatchy Newspapers 2011

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