by Andrew Stiles

Lawmakers sparred Friday at a rare “on site” hearing in Charleston, S.C., to examine the National Labor Relation Board’s controversial complaint against the Boeing company, which alleges that the airplane manufacturer “unlawfully discriminated” against union workers in its decision to open a new production facility in a right-to-work state.

Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel for the NLRB appointed by President Obama — who said he had agreed to testify “voluntarily” but “reluctantly” after Rep. Darrell Issa (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, rejected Solomon’s offer to have an associate testify on his behalf — defended his decision to file charge against Boeing, questioning whether the company’s actions were motivated by “legitimate business considerations” or were instead in retaliation for frequent union strikes at its Puget Sound plant near Seattle. “I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities if I turned a blind eye to evidence that an unfair labor practice may have occurred,” said Solomon in his opening remarks.

Republicans have been up in arms over the “baseless” complaint, accusing the NLRB of trying to intimidate Boeing and other companies with the prospect of having to spend millions of dollars defending themselves in court, the consequences of which could have a significant “chilling effect” on job creation in the United States. “The definition of intimidation is the NLRB having the Boeing corporation spend hundreds of thousands if not millions defending a baseless lawsuit,” said freshman Rep. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), who represents the North Charleston district where the new plant is located. “It is obvious that we are the process of seeing the beginning of a presidential reelection campaign,” he added, suggesting that the move was a blatant attempt by the Obama administration to gin up union (financial) support in the run-up to the 2012 election.

Democrats meanwhile, protested the hearing itself, arguing that it was inappropriate to force Solomon to testify about the NLRB complaint while legal proceedings are currently underway in Seattle. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D., Dist. of Columbia) said the hearing had the “appearance of intimidation” and was an effort by Republicans to undermine due process in the case against Boeing. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio) echoed the NLRB accusations that Boeing had indeed acted in retaliation against union workers who were simply exercising their rights (to strike, for example) under the law. “It’s not the NLRB, but Boeing that has pitted one state against the other,” he said. “It’s Boeing that is pitting one group of workers against the other.”

Boeing’s machinist union has demanded a “status quo remedy,” meaning they want Boeing to “return” the South Carolina plant to Washington. But Boeing claims to have already invested $1 billion in the new plant, and argues that thousands of local jobs are at stake. According to the law, companies cannot move their businesses to retaliate against unions’ exercising their various rights. Boeing officials had publicly acknowledged their frustration with the frequent union strikes that had cost the company billions of dollars. As a result, several companies that do business with Boeing had threatened to cut off relations with airline manufacturer, thus blurring substantially the line between “legitimate business considerations” and “retaliation” against unions.

There is also the fact that Boeing did not “move” any business out of Washington and into South Carolina, but rather opened an entirely new plant. Not a single union worker lost a job or benefit as result, in fact employment at the Washington plant has actually increased. Solomon, however, argues that Boeing “would have” built a second plant in Washington had the “unlawful discrimination” not occurred, and therefore the business should be “returned.” He added that he would not have filed the complaint if the South Carolina workers belonged to a labor union.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) also testified before the committee. She has been by far the most vocal opponent of the NLRB case, arguing that the potential implications should be of concern to all Americans. “This is not just a South Carolina problem,” she said. “This is a problem facing every governor in every state in this country.”

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