NLRB takes another Boeing hit as Obama’s Export Council chair criticizes labor board’s plans

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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President Barack Obama remains silent on the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) actions against the Boeing Company’s recently-finished $2 billion production plant in South Carolina, but his Export Council chairman Jim McNerney, who’s also the president and CEO of Boeing, ripped the NLRB in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday morning.

“The NLRB is wrong and has far overreached its authority,” McNerney wrote. “Its action is a fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained America’s competitiveness since it became the world’s largest economy nearly 140 years ago. We’ve made a rational, legal business decision about the allocation of our capital and the placement of new work within the U.S. We’re confident the federal courts will reject the claim, but only after a significant and unnecessary expense to taxpayers.”

The NLRB is pushing a complaint against Boeing for opening a new production line in South Carolina, an addition to its previously existing facilities in Washington State. Boeing has union contracts in Washington, and attempted to work out a deal with the union before ultimately deciding to open its new plant in South Carolina. The Machinists union alleges Boeing’s decision was retaliation for a 2008 strike. But, with the new plant, no Washington State jobs are lost and nothing changes for the union or its members there. The NLRB calls Boeing’s actions “illegal activity.”

McNerney questioned the long-term and broad implications of the NLRB’s actions, too. “More worrisome, though, are the potential implications of such brazen regulatory activism on the U.S. manufacturing base and long-term job creation,” he wrote. “The NLRB’s overreach could accelerate the overseas flight of good, middle-class American jobs.”

At a U.S. Chamber of Commerce press conference Tuesday, several top GOP lawmakers, including South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Lamar Alexander and Sen. Rand Paul, called on Obama to address the NLRB’s case. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham asked the president to explain why McNerney and his chief of staff Bill Daley both supported Boeing’s decision to open the new South Carolina production line. Daley was a member of Boeing’s board of directors and voted in favor of opening the new plant.

“In January 2011, Mr. Daley was chosen by President Obama to be his chief of staff,” Graham said. “One would have to assume that the vetters at the White House understood that there was a complaint being filed against Mr. Daley’s actions as a board member [for Boeing] and they had to conclude there was no merit to it.” Graham said the same goes for McNerney’s nomination.

The White House hasn’t responded to The Daily Caller’s requests for comment on McNerney’s op-ed or on Daley’s involvement in the Boeing decision.

DeMint, Graham and several other GOP Senators have asked Obama to immediately rescind recess appointments he’s made for two NLRB members, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon and former SEIU and AFL-CIO lawyer Craig Becker. Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, told TheDC last week that he’s confident Republicans will win the fight against Becker and Solomon.

Haley demanded Obama respond to the NLRB’s actions. If he doesn’t, Haley said she’d stand with any other governor who ends up going through what South Carolina is enduring now courtesy of the NLRB.

Chamber labor specialist Glenn Spencer told TheDC that McNerney’s latest comments are a sign that the president needs to do something about the NLRB sooner rather than later.

“As the chairman of the president’s own export council makes clear, the NLRB isn’t just overstepping its authority, it’s threatening quality American jobs now and in the future,” Spencer said in an email. “Bringing this complaint is just one in a series of biased actions that have made confirmation for Mr. Solomon highly unlikely.”

McNerney is hardly the only Obama administration official who has questioned the NLRB’s actions with this case. In June 2010, the NLRB’s regional director originally investigating the complaint, Richard Ahearn, told the Seattle Times that he cannot point to any “bright line” that makes the case a clear retaliation or legitimate strategy. He also said the case would be “easier” for the union to win if Boeing had moved existing work or jobs to the new plant.

Democrats and liberal groups are accusing Boeing and Republicans of bashing “workers’ rights” and of “union-busting,” even though Daley and McNerney, two of the president’s top advisers, were part of the decision-making process for Boeing. For example, Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a statement Tuesday berating the GOP lawmakers for their Chamber presser. Harkin, however, failed to address any specifics of the case, including Daley’s and McNerney’s leadership in Boeing’s decision. Harkin’s statement called the Republicans’ actions an “assault on the middle class that has been echoing across the country for months now.”

“This fight is about far more than just one group of workers in Washington State.  Unions are one of the few voices left in our society speaking up for the little guy, and if we let powerful CEOs trample all over these rights without consequences, we might as well give up on having a middle class altogether,” Harkin said. “That’s what this all comes down to:  powerful corporate interests are pressuring public officials to interfere with an independent agency, rather than let justice run its course.  And we should not tolerate this interference.  Instead, we should turn our attention back to the issues that really matter to American families – how we can create jobs in Washington, South Carolina, Iowa, and across the country.”

A spokeswoman for the Senate HELP Committee told TheDC that though Harkin didn’t address any specifics of the case in this statement, he plans to do so on the Senate floor when he gets a chance soon. The spokeswoman did not respond to TheDC’s requests for comment regarding McNerney’s op-ed or Daley’s involvement in Boeing’s decision as a member of its board of directors.