Charleston welcomes Boeing, hopes it stays

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Boeing Co. means everything to this community.

At a time when jobs are hard to come by, the giant aerospace manufacturer has given this small Southern town a reason to hope by building a $750 million plant here. It has put thousands of employees back to work, and flooded local stores and businesses with more cash than they can imagine.

“We are so blessed to have Boeing here,” said Neil Whitman, president of Dunhill Staffing Systems, a Boeing supplier in nearby Mount Pleasant. “We really, really are.”

That’s why the community here is so concerned about losing Boeing. The company is fending off accusations from the National Labor Relations Board that it moved work away from Puget Sound, Wash., to punish employees there for past strikes — even though the company has created some 2,000 jobs there since deciding to go elsewhere.

If it loses the case, which could take years to resolve, Boeing has said it might not be able to keep this plant open.

“That would be the most tremendous loss since the Civil War,” said Dennis Murray, one of Boeing’s Charleston employees. “We’d be left in shambles again.”

This is shaping up to be one of the biggest labor disputes of the Obama administration. The issue has attracted national attention. On Friday, members of Congress are traveling here to investigate whether the NLRB has overstepped its authority by effectively trying to shut down this plant and eliminate thousands of new jobs.

Republican lawmakers say they will grill Lafe Solomon, the NLRB’s acting general counsel, about the “inappropriate” complaint he filed against Boeing. They will also hear testimony from South Carolina stakeholders, who could lose work if the NLRB succeeds.

Rep. Tim Scott, the South Carolina Republican who represents the area where the factory is located, denounced the NLRB’s actions on Boeing as “unfortunate.”

“I see it as an absolute joke being played on the American people,” he said.

“This has been very, very hard on all of us in South Carolina,” agreed Rep. Trey Gowdy, another of the three South Carolina Republicans who will be at the hearing. “We need the work, we want the work, we’re hungry for the work.”

Mr. Gowdy says the NLRB lawsuit will “fall flat on its legal face,” because it is “un-American.”

Local unions are caught in the middle.

Donna Dewitt, president of the South Carolina AFL-CIO, said she is happy to have more work here, but she is afraid Boeing did it the “wrong way.”

“We want jobs here in South Carolina,” she said. “We just want it to be done right. We feel like it’s wrong the way it was handled in Washington state.”

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