The specific dispute between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board may be over, but the issues it raised are not.
While the NLRB agreed Friday to drop the politically-charged case over the aerospace giant building a plant in right-to-work South Carolina, the board's top lawyer left the door open to file similar cases and seek similar remedies in the future.
"If we were ever faced with a similar pattern, we might well issue a complaint," NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon said in a conference call with reporters.
The NLRB-Boeing dispute, which threatened to shutter a $1 billion manufacturing plant the company has built in South Carolina, became a major political issue, with business groups, congressional Republicans and a number of GOP presidential hopefuls charging the board had overstepped its power by favoring the complaint filed by the company's machinists' union.
The move to drop the case was made possible after Boeing and the International Association of Machinists reached a deal on a new four-year labor contract last week. While the two sides were bargaining, the union had accused Boeing officials of illegally shifting work on the company's new Dreamliner 787 to the North Charleston, S.C., site in retaliation for past strikes in the company's Washington state manufacturing hub.
Business groups and Republican lawmakers applauded the decision Friday, but were similarly cautious about what the fact the dispute got as far as it did might mean for the future.
Randy Johnson, a senior vice president on labor issue at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the decision to drop the complaint, but argued Friday that "more needs to be done to prevent this outrageous overreach in the future."
The NLRB case "will stand as one of the great examples of pro-union activism and government overreach in history," Mr. Johnson said.
Republicans in the House have introduced bills designed to curb the powers of the NLRB in the wake of the Boeing complaint, arguing recent actions by the board have been far too heavily titled toward the interests of labor unions — a key part of Mr. Obama's political base.
"Today's decision confirms the NLRB's action against Boeing was nothing more than a shameless campaign to bully an American employer," House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, Minnesota Republican, said in a statement. "While I am pleased Boeing and the union agreed to a resolution, thousands of jobs in South Carolina and many more across the country were threatened by the NLRB's decision to pick winners and losers in a labor dispute."
Mr. Kline said the threat of similar complaints down the line could inhibit investment and job growth.
"Countless employers and workers are now wondering whether they too will fall victim to similar tactics by Big Labor and its NLRB allies."
Pro-business groups also said the Boeing settlement has not lifted the cloud brought on by the original NLRB action.
"In withdrawing the complaint against Boeing, Mr. Solomon threatened American companies saying he would go after them if 'faced with a similar situation,' " said Fred Wszolek, spokesperson for the Workforce Fairness Institute spokesman. "Clearly, labor's cronies at the NLRB don't understand it is not the job of bureaucrats to dictate to American companies where they can and cannot invest resources and locate operations."
But Mr. Solomon contended that the NLRB, now dominated by President Obama's appointees, had never — as critics charged — asserted the authority to tell companies where they can operate or invest.
"This case was never about the union or NLRB telling Boeing where it could put its plant," Mr. Solomon explained. "This was a question, for us, of retaliation."
Boeing and the machinists union historically have had a testy relationship, including five strikes since 1977. Both sides said they hoped a new contract agreed to this week would bring in an era of labor peace for one of the country's biggest exporters.
"For the next five years, I take the parties at their words that they're really going to work on a better relationship," Mr. Solomon said. "I think there's no reason to not be optimistic."
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