In one of the most heated labor disputes of the Obama administration, Boeing Co. has asked a judge in Seattle to dismiss a National Labor Relations Board case that accuses the company of punishing workers in Washington state by moving additional work out of state.
The NLRB is trying to block Boeing from building airplanes at a new $750 million plant in North Charleston, S.C. The board says Boeing is retaliating against workers in Puget Sound in Washington state for past strikes by moving to a right-to-work state, where unions are not as strong.
But Boeing argues it is a private company that should be allowed to operate wherever it wants. The aerospace giant said it was a smart business decision to go to North Charleston, where the plant opened last week.
Furthermore, the company points out that it has added thousands of jobs in Washington state, even since it announced it was building another plant out of state two years ago. Meanwhile, employees in South Carolina fear they will lose their new jobs if the NLRB prevails.
Boeing attorney William Kilberg said the NLRB complaint has caused problems for Boeing, its employees, its suppliers and its investments, according to the Associated Press. "It's made life very, very difficult for Boeing," he said.
"There's no one injured, no one identified as being injured. No one has lost a job. We have no idea when the board talks about work being transferred, what work they're referring to," Mr. Kilberg said.
The two sides faced off in court for the first time Tuesday in Seattle. Judge Clifford Anderson, associate chief administrative law judge for the NLRB, plans to rule soon on Boeing's motion to dismiss the case.
"He didn't say whether that meant a day or by the end of the week or next week," Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said. "But he did say he would rule on that quickly."
This is the first step in what's expected to be a long legal battle that could take years. The NLRB filed the complaint on April 20. The case started this week, and the federal administrative law judge will likely take a month or two to rule. The losing party can then appeal the decision to the labor board. After that, the case will go through the federal court system and possibly all the way to the Supreme Court.
"Our legal team, they certainly are going to work hard to see if they can win it at the administrative judge level or at the very least at the board level," Mr. Neale said. "We believe the facts are on our side."
"We certainly believe we could win it at this level," he said. "If we don't, then we would go to the federal courts, where we are very, very confident the complaint would be thrown out."
NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said it's too early to tell how the case will go at the administrative judge level. "There is no way to get a sense of where things are going yet," she said.
Republicans have to come to the aid of Boeing. On Monday, during a Republican presidential debate, the candidates overwhelming expressed support for Boeing. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called on Congress to defund the NLRB.
"That's a real, immediate threat from the Obama administration to eliminate right-to-work," he said during the debate on CNN. "And I think that it is fundamentally the wrong direction."
"Don't be stupid," he warned.
Another Republican candidate, Herman Cain, said the NLRB's fight against Boeing is "killing our free-market system."
Furthermore, a number of congressional Republicans have sent letters to the NLRB and President Obama, expressing their disapproval. And, on Friday, a House committee is traveling to South Carolina to investigate the NLRB's actions and the impact on the local economy.
But Democrats are firing back. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Republicans shouldn't get involved, because they are trying to "poison the decision-making process."
"This kind of interference is inappropriate," he said. "It is disgraceful and dangerous."
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