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House panel plans hearing on Boeing plant

NLRB’s suit targets new site in South Carolina

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 8, 2011

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A Republican-led House committee plans to hold a June 17 hearing in South Carolina on a federal board's suit alleging the Boeing Co. retaliated against Washington state union workers by building an assembly plant in this Southern, right-to-work state.

The move by the hard-charging Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, who is the committee's chairman, represents the latest escalation of the fight between the National Labor Relations Board, which now has a majority of Democratic appointees, and Boeing and GOP elected officials.

The state's new Republican governor, Nikki Haley, has been hammering the Obama administration over the board's decision to sue Boeing for alleged labor law violations.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government announced Wednesday that the hearing will be held in North Charleston, home to Boeing's new 787 passenger aircraft assembly line. The committee has requested that NLRB general counsel Lafe Solomon appear at the hearing.

"This hearing will focus on how your actions against Boeing could impact the thousands of Boeing employees at a non-union work site in South Carolina," Mr. Issa wrote Mr. Solomon on Tuesday. "You assert that you do not seek to close Boeing's operations in South Carolina, yet the relief requested would have that exact effect."

An administrative law judge in Seattle is set to consider the NLRB dispute June 14, with any subsequent decision subject to appeal to the board and a federal appeals court. Mr. Solomon cited that ongoing dispute as a reason to decline Mr. Issa's invitation. Mr. Issa said he would subpoena Mr. Solomon if necessary.

An NLRB spokeswoman said the agency had until Friday to respond to the committee's request.

The board sued Boeing in April, claiming the manufacturer located its assembly line in South Carolina to retaliate against Washington state union workers who went on strike in 2008. The NLRB wants that work returned to Washington state, even though the company has built a new South Carolina plant — the largest single industrial investment in the state's history — and hired 1,000 workers.

Most 787s are being assembled in Washington state by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Boeing expects to deliver the first one to a customer later this year, and with more than 800 orders, it's expected to be a major seller for years.

Boeing has said stopping work on 787s in South Carolina would be impermissibly punitive because it would effectively shut it down. The Chicago-based company has also taken issue with the labor board's claim that the company removed or transferred any work from its Puget Sound facility, saying all the work in South Carolina will be new and that no union member has lost a job over the action.

The wide-ranging dispute has drawn attention to the anti-union reputation of South Carolina, a right-to-work state where individual employees can join unions voluntarily, but unions cannot force membership across entire work sites. Like many others, the state also bars government employees from collective bargaining. In 2009, just 5.4 percent of the state's workers were covered by unions, according to federal Census data.

AP writer Sam Hananel contributed to this report.

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