WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim DeMint filed a Freedom of Information Act request Monday seeking communications that the federal labor agency may have had with union and Obama administration officials tied to Boeing's bid to open an aircraft plant in South Carolina.
DeMint, a South Carolina Republican, for the first time raised the possibility that the National Labor Relations Board's complaint against Boeing was a payoff for $1.9 million in political contributions to Democratic candidates in 2009 and 2010 by the union that represents Boeing workers.
"Local 751 (of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers) would appear to be openly engaged in a pay-to-play system of political influence," DeMint wrote in a letter to NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon. "The question is unavoidable: Did Local 751's political activities or campaign contributions 'gain access to officials' at the NLRB?"
DeMint, whose hard-line conservative stances have gained him a national following from GOP activists, said he was quoting from a newsletter in which Local 751 leaders said its members' political donations open doors with elected officials.
Solomon, NLRB's top lawyer, filed an April compliant alleging that Boeing decided to build a new assembly line for its 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, S.C, because of past labor strikes at the aerospace giant's production hub in Everett, Wash.
An administrative law judge is scheduled to hear the case next week in Seattle. The judge will drop the case, refer it to the full NLRB or possibly seek more information.
Whatever the outcome, the dispute will likely end up in federal court and could stretch into the 2012 presidential election year.
DeMint's barb intensifies a broadening political fight between Republicans and Democrats over U.S. firms' ability to operate where they see fit and American workers' federally protected rights to collective bargaining.
DeMint and 33 other Republican senators last month introduced a bill to ban the NLRB from determining where companies can do business and to protect the 22 "right to work" states that prohibit requiring union membership in order to hold a job.
"We need transparency into NLRB's bullying of workers and businesses in right-to-work states," DeMint told McClatchy. "It's important that we have all the facts surrounding this controversial decision."
NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland declined to discuss DeMint's FOIA request Monday, saying she hadn't seen it.
Cleeland, though, said it was rare for the labor agency to get a FOIA request from a member of Congress under a 1966 law intended to make federal executive documents more available to Americans.
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