NLRB documents shed light on Boeing fight in South Carolina

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 10, 2011 

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for the federal labor agency fighting Boeing’s new factory in North Charleston, N.C., repeatedly joked among themselves about the dispute and exchanged a political cartoon portraying S.C. Sen. Glenn McConnell as a crass-speaking confederate soldier, according to internal documents released Wednesday.

The emails, memos and other documents from the National Labor Relations Board, which the agency provided in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, also portray Sen. Lindsey Graham’s behind-the-scenes efforts to prevent it from filing a complaint against Boeing.

And two internal emails on April 21 and April 22 refer to Sen. Jim DeMint as “Senator Dement” and “Sen. Dement,” with the normally capitalized “M” in his name typed as a small “m” in an apparent bid to tie it more directly to the word “demented.”

In an April 8 conversation, Graham warned NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon against incurring DeMint’s wrath if he took action against Boeing over alleged union-busting at its Everett, Wash., commercial jet plants.

“He said that the charge would scare Boeing’s customers and could affect orders,” Solomon wrote in a note for his files after talking with Graham. “He said that the political fallout would be huge and that he was more reasonable than his Senate counterpart (DeMint).”

Graham used tougher words in a follow-up conversation three days later.

“He said that if a complaint was filed, it will be ‘nasty, very, very nasty,’” Solomon wrote in an April 11 file note. “He said that this was a case of how not to grow the economy. … He said that if (a) complaint issued, he was going ‘full guns-ablazing.’”

Solomon ignored Graham’s warnings and filed a complaint with the NLRB on April 20. It alleges that Boeing expanded production of its Dreamliner aircraft to South Carolina, a right-to-work state, in retaliation for past strikes by Machinists union members at its Puget Sound factories.

Boeing says it built the plant next to Charleston International Airport because the state government gave the aerospace giant $900 million in tax incentives and it couldn’t afford to production delays that future work stoppages might cause.

An NLRB administrative law judge in Seattle is considering the case following oral arguments by the two sides in June. It could end up in the federal courts and take years to resolve.

Graham, a Republican, said Wednesday that Solomon had described their conversations accurately, including his warning about DeMint. “Both senators were outraged,” Graham spokesman Kevin Bishop said.

DeMint took no offense at Graham’s characterization of him.

“He’s right,” DeMint said. “I tend to be less forgiving of these things.”

DeMint aimed his ire at the NLRB.

“These documents support what we all suspected,” the Republican said. “This is a politically driven attack on workers in right-to-work states by ideologues on the board to tilt the scales of justice in the union bosses’ favor.”

NLRB officials declined to comment on the documents, which were obtained by Judiciary Watch, a Washington watchdog group. Rep. Tim Scott, a first-term North Charleston Republican whose congressional district is home to the new Boeing factory, called on the labor agency to drop the complaint against Boeing immediately.

“I am shocked the NLRB would make such comments as they hold in their hands the jobs of 1,100 hard-working men and women here in South Carolina,” Scott said. “This continues to show the poor judgment and lack of common sense in the board’s leadership which already threatens the future of major parts of our nation’s economy.”

Among the agency’s more provocative internal documents:

• On May 12, NLRB attorney Joseph Baniszewski emailed to agency lawyer Jennifer Abruzzo cartoon in which Spartanburg Herald-Journal illustrator Robert Ariail portrayed McConnell in confederate garb and under a confederate “Right to Work” flag firing a cannonball emblazoned “To NLRB — Kiss My Grits.” McConnell, who participates in Civil War reenactments, says in the cartoon, “Keep yo’ featherbeddin’ union hands off of our jobs, Yankee pond scum!”

• On April 22, Solomon emailed to a colleague an online article from Europe that criticized the agency for going after Boeing. “The article gave me a new idea,” Solomon quipped. “You go to Geneva and I get a job with Airbus. We screwed up the U.S. economy, and now we can tackle Europe.”

• On April 28, Miriam Szapiro, an NLRB attorney, sent an email to agency lawyer Debra Willen, noting that an Economist magazine blog was backing the NLRB’s position in the case. “It just shows you how incredibly reactionary the U.S. is, that the conservative Economist thinks we’re (Americans) Neanderthal,” Szapiro wrote.

Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley, said the NLRB employees’ jokes about the Boeing case didn’t amuse her.

“The NLRB is a disrespectful agency that apparently believes that the jobs and companies they are threatening is all fun and games,” Godfrey said. “They are wrong. These are real people, real jobs and real companies. This is not and has never been a laughing matter.”

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