The Senate’s top Democrat strongly condemned what he called “inappropriate” attempts by Republican lawmakers to intervene in a simmering labor dispute now before the National Labor Relations Board.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday said the GOP moves were an attempt to “poison the decision-making process” in the increasingly bitter dispute over plans by aerospace giant Boeing Co. to open a major new, non-union manufacturing plant for its premier 787 Dreamliner fleet in South Carolina.
The NLRB, in a move that has outraged leading business groups and South Carolina officials, has issued a complaint to block the move, charging the new plant was an illegal effort to punish Boeing’s unionized workers for a series of past strikes.
The Nevada Democrat said he was not judging the merits of the dispute, but he said the political pressure being placed on the independent NLRB went beyond the pale.
“This kind of interference is inappropriate,” Mr. Reid said Wednesday. “It is disgraceful and dangerous.”
While the pressure “may not be illegal, but it’s no better than the retaliation and intimidation that is the fundamental question in this case. It should stop,” Mr. Reid said.
Boeing, backed by leading business lobbies and nearly two dozen Republican senators, has staunchly denied using the new plant to punish its labor unions and slammed the NLRB for intervening.
Chief Executive Jim McNerney said in an opinion piece published Wednesday in the Wall Street Journal that the federal labor board has “far overreached its authority.”
“Its action is a fundamental assault on the capitalist principles that have sustained America’s competitiveness since it became the world’s largest economy nearly 140 years ago,” the Boeing executive wrote.
The court date for the complaint is set for June 14. The NLRB filed its complaint against Boeing on April 20.
In a letter to President Obama last week, 19 GOP senators demanded that he withdraw his nominations of NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon and board member Craig Becker - the two men who are largely seen as responsible for the Boeing action.
Critics of the agency’s actions warn that it could have a chilling effect on corporate investment generally and even could lead U.S. companies to seek opportunities overseas.
“Why should companies invest in expanding business in the United States if, at the drop of a hat, a federal bureaucrat can simply reverse that decision and destroy that investment?” asked Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republicans and one of the senators who signed the letter.
The Business Roundtable, a collection of some of the nation’s largest corporations, said in its statement that the April 20 NLRB action, which calls for Boeing to bring the jobs planned for South Carolina back to Washington state, “represents a drastic departure from NLRB and Supreme Court precedent.”
But Mr. Reid said charged that the GOP opposition sprang in large measure from the party’s hostility to labor unions.
“Let’s be honest: Republicans are threatened by unions,” Mr. Reid said. “They’re threatened because when a large, organized group is so concerned with workers’ rights, the members of that group vote in large numbers. And because Republicans and the big businesses they defend so often try to take away workers’ rights, workers don’t often vote Republican.”