When the topic of discussion is the NLRBs complaint against the Boeing Co., tensions can quickly run high.
Such was the case Friday in South Carolina, where a U.S. congressional oversight committee held a field hearing to examine the National Labor Relations Boards decision to bring suit against the aerospace firm for alleged unfair labor practices. The suit relates to Boeings decision to locate a second production line for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Lafe Solomon, the NLRBs acting general counsel, were among those who testified.
The field hearing, streamed live online, was conducted by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and led by its chairman, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.
Statements and questions by committee members generally followed party lines, with Republicans attacking the boards decision as exceeding its legal authority or political maneuvering. Campaign season has begun, said Rep. Tim Scott. Scott is not a member of the oversight committee but was invited to attend given his position as a South Carolina representative.
Democrats: NLRB Was Doing its Job
Democrats, on the other hand, countered that the NLRB was merely doing its job as a protector of all workers rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
Several of the Democrat members also expressed concern over Issas timing of the field hearing, which occurred even as the NLRBs case against Boeing is being heard by an administrative law judge. (The case began June 14 in Seattle.)
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., for example, said testimony at the Friday hearing raises serious concerns about due process rights, particularly given Issas demand that Solomon testify.
The committee, she said, should not interfere with active prosecution under the guise of oversight.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., said the hearings timing and the demand for Solomons appearance presented an appearance of intimidation.
On the contrary, said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. He said the hearing was not meant to influence the outcome of the NLRB-Boeing case, but to examine whether the boards actions are impacting job growth and attempting to punish states with opposing views.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., described the National Labor Relations Board as a sycophant for labor unions. (In some corners the dispute has become a battle between unions and right-to-work states.
The NLRB launched its investigation of Boeing in response to a charge filed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The IAM represents Boeing employees in Washington state.)
For his part, the NLRBs Solomon said he attended South Carolina hearing voluntarily, albeit reluctantly. Issa had threatened to subpoena Solomon to appear.
Solomon made it clear that his testimony could be limited given that he remains actively involved in determining strategy, in the litigation against Boeing.
That said, he told committee members of his continued willingness to facilitate a settlement between the two parties in the dispute. A settlement, he stated, would promote industrial peace.
The two parties are Boeing and the IAM. The NLRBs April 20 complaint resulted from a charge by the IAM that the aerospace firm launched its Dreamliner assembly line in South Carolina in retaliation for union workers going about federally protected union activities. The Puget Sound Boeing site, home to the first Dreamliner assembly line, has been the site of numerous strikes, one in 2008 that lasted two months.
Should Boeing lose, the NLRBs proposed remedy is to move the South Carolina assembly line to Washington state.
Boeing has denied the charges.
NLRB's Solomon Denies Political Motivations
At Fridays hearing, Solomon denied any political motivations behind the decision to prosecute Boeing.
One point made clear throughout the days testimony: The outcome of NLRB-Boeing case holds huge ramifications for many people.
Gov. Haley, for example, said the Boeing plant had energized her state with its employment of some 1,000 workers. Nevertheless, the issue is not simply a S.C. issue, she said. If the NLRB succeeds in its litigation, companies will be reluctant to locate in any state and instead will look overseas, the governor said.
While we may be the first state dealing with this, it should be the last, she said.
Fridays hearing was the latest in a continuing flurry of events related to the NLRBs complaint against Boeing. Also on Friday the IAM called for an investigation of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., for alleged ethics violations. A Boeing worker at its South Carolina plant also has reportedly filed a complaint with the NLRB charging the IAM with unfair labor practices.