- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2011

South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint on Thursday criticized a National Labor Relations Board move to block a major new Boeing manufacturing facility in his state and said Democrats need to distance themselves from labor unions who are hurting the workers they are supposed to protect.

Mr. DeMint’s comments in a teleconference with reporters came amid an escalating standoff between the NLRB and South Carolina officials over the fate of a $2 billion manufacturing facility Boeing is building near Charleston to make its new 787 Dreamliner. In a move strongly opposed by business groups, the NLRB sided with Boeing’s unions, which claimed the new plant was being built in a right-to-work state to punish the unions for past strikes.

Democrats siding with the labor agency are “very afraid of doing anything that antagonizes unions, even if behind the scenes they agree with us,” he said. “… These guys are afraid, literally intimidated by the unions.”

Boeing’s unions say they have internal communications from Boeing officials proving their accusations, and the NLRB agreed, filling a complaint last month that the decision to move production to South Carolina was an impermissible retaliatory move under federal labor laws.

“The key thing here is motivation,” said NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland. “In our complaint, we allege they made it very clear to the union members they were doing this to retaliate against them.”

Boeing has staunchly denied using the new plant to punish its labor unions. The Chicago-based aerospace giant contends that shifting some of the production to South Carolina was purely a business decision, and the company was within its rights to consider its past relations with the unions in Washington state.

“We’ve been upfront about the fact that one of those reasons [for the South Carolina plant] had to do with the history of strikes we have had in Puget Sound,” Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said. “We believe that legally companies are entitled to take things like labor history into account when deciding where to invest.”

In its defense, Boeing notes that it isn’t cutting jobs or production in the Puget Sound area of Washington state and has added more than 2,000 positions there since the 2009 decision to open a second production plant across the country.

“If this is Boeing’s way of intimidating employees,” said Fred Wszolek, spokesman for Workforce Fairness Institute, an advocacy group that has long been critical of the NLRB, “it sure seems like a strange way of going about it.”

If the NLRB prevails, it could threaten more than 1,000 jobs projected to be created for the South Carolina plant. Business groups and congressional Republicans say the clash is a clear case of regulatory overreach, with the NLRB, now dominated by President Obama’s appointees interfering in what long has been considered private business decisions.

“To threaten this many jobs with one of his bogus claims is one of the most absurd things we’ve seen from this administration,” Mr. DeMint said.

Boeing broke ground in November 2009 for its final assembly and delivery plant for 787s in North Charleston and expects to start production on 787s in July, despite the NLRB complaint.

The first Dreamliner is expected in the first quarter of 2012.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid last week chided Republicans for what he said was their interference into the regulatory process and the attempt to pressure an independent agency.

And the Everett (Wash.) Herald Thursday reported that Washington Sen. Patty Murray and nine fellow Democratic senators have sent a letter to the NLRB urging the agency to resist outside pressure and requests from Republicans for an explanation of its decision ahead of next month’s hearing on the complaint.

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