House Republicans on Thursday pressed to rein in the National Labor Relations Board in its fight against aerospace giant Boeing, pushing forward a bill that would eliminate the agency's authority to regulate private business decisions on investment and plant relocations.
On a straight party-line vote, the House Committee on Education and the Workplace voted 23-16 to bring the bill to the floor, following a Thursday morning markup. Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and committee chairman, said he expects a vote by the full House next week.
The NLRB filed an action in April to prevent the opening of the massive $750 million new plant near Charleston, S.C., intended to build Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, contending the company was illegally punishing its union workers in its Washington state manufacturing base by opening the new, non-union plant.
The agency board wants Boeing to bring the work back to Washington state.
"This is the economic death penalty for workers," Rep. Trey Gowdy, South Carolina Republican, said of the NLRB complaint. "They have abused this remedy, and they should lose it."
The case is being heard in a Seattle court right now. From there, it could go to the NLRB board, and eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The issue has divided lawmakers along partisan lines. Republicans have come to the defense of Boeing, while Democrats argue Congress should not be interfering while the administrative process is under way.
Republicans on the panel argued the NLRB has overstepped its authority by dictating where Boeing can operate. They said the agency has plenty of other measures to use against companies that violate labor laws, such as awarding back pay and giving workers who lose their jobs first priority at the new facility.
Mr. Kline said it would be an "extreme remedy" to relocate a company that violates labor laws. "We don't believe that ought to be in the menu of remedies for the NLRB," he said.
But committee Democrats said that other remedies are virtually useless, and fear this bill would open the door for companies to move overseas to escape dealing with unionized workers at home.
Ranking minority member George Miller, California Democrat, said the bill would "pull the rug out from under some American workers."
"This bill presents American workers with a choice: You can have your rights, or you can have your job," he said. "It makes it much easier to play American workers against each other in a race to the bottom."
The NLRB, an independent agency but one with a majority of Democratic appointees, has become a partisan flash point since the big Republican gains in November's midterm elections..
Boeing, backed by a broad array of business groups, is fighting the NLRB action. The company points out that it has added thousands of jobs in Washington state, even since it moved the second facility to South Carolina. Bringing that work back to Washington state, the company contends, would force it to close shop and cut thousands of new jobs in North Charleston.
"If that is discrimination, if that is retaliation, then give us more of that in South Carolina," Mr. Gowdy said of the new jobs in Washington state.
But Democrats countered that the Washington state jobs could merely be temporary positions, if Boeing's experiment in South Carolina goes well and it were to move more work there. "The fact of the matter is these jobs are temporary," Mr. Miller said.
Rep. Tim Walberg, Michigan Republican, said he feared his state, with a sizable union presence, could lose out on work, if businesses are afraid to locate there. He said the NLRB complaint was like throwing a "bucket of ice water" on business investment.
"With the guillotine hanging over South Carolina and Boeing, why would they want to come to my state?" he asked.
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