- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2011

The House passed a Republican measure Thursday that calls for curtailing the National Labor Relations Board’s enforcement power — a move that would undermine a federal complaint against the Boeing Co. for opening a new plant in South Carolina.

The bill would prohibit the NLRB from ordering an employer to shut down plants or relocate work, even if a company is found to have illegally retaliated against unionized employees.

“The Republican bill simply says that forcing a business to close its doors and relocate to another part of the country is an unacceptable remedy for today’s workforce,” said Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

“If the NLRB is allowed to exercise this radical authority, it will have a chilling effect on our economy.”

The House passed the measure largely along party lines by a vote of 238 to 186. Eight Democrats supported the measure, while seven Republicans opposed it. House Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn, the lone Democrat in the South Carolina congressional delegation, voted no.

The bill is expected to die in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

Republicans and the business community say the NLRB during the Obama administration years have overstepped its bounds by imposing excessive regulations that hurt business. Conservatives are particularly upset over some union-friendly rulings by the board.

The GOP measure was born out of an NLRB complaint in April that accused Boeing of punishing union workers in Washington state by building a new nonunion assembly plant for its 787 airliner in South Carolina, a right-to-work state.

The agency filed the complaint after a yearlong investigation of unfair labor practices brought by the Seattle chapter of the International Association of Machinists. The chapter accused Boeing of locating a second assembly line for the 787 aircraft in South Carolina, rather than in Washington state, as retaliation for a 2008 strike.

Democrats and organized labor said Republicans are using the measure to unfairly target unions and stifle collective-bargaining rights. They added that by weakening the NLRB’s authority, companies would have an easier time relocating jobs overseas.

“This is the outsourcers bill of rights,” said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey Democrat. “This is a bill that overreaches. It undercuts the middle class of this country.”

Opponents also complained the bill would interfere with ongoing litigation.

“It is not good legislative policy to legislate on individual cases,” said Rep. Rush D. Holt, New Jersey Democrat.

The NLRB says its complaint doesn’t seek to shut down the Boeing plant, but rather would require the company to move the new 787 airliner production lines back to Washington state.

But Boeing officials, who have denied the charges, say the South Carolina facility that opened in June was built specifically for construction of the aircraft and that the NLRB’s ruling effectively would shutter the plant and force the layoff more than a thousand new workers there.

Boeing has argued that it’s 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, S.C.

“We have said consistently that the complaint is groundless and legally unsupportable,” said Boeing spokesman Tim Neale. “Boeing did not transfer work from Washington to South Carolina. The production line in Charleston is new work.”

The company added that since its decision to build the South Carolina plant, it has hired about 5,000 workers in Washington state.

But Democrats and unions say the GOP bill is aimed at protecting big business and will make it more difficult to workers to defend their legal rights.

“It would leave the NLRB powerless to protect workers who refuse to stay on an unsafe job. The company could just move the work, rather than fix the problems,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO labor federation.

This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

• Sean Lengell can be reached at slengell@washingtontimes.com.

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