WASHINGTON -- Gov. Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) joined a coalition of business interests and Republican lawmakers Tuesday in bashing the National Labor Relations Board for filing a controversial complaint against the Boeing Company last month. At a press conference in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce offices, Haley called the complaint "an unbelievable attack on not just right-to-work states but every state that’s attempting to put their people to work."
In the complaint that attracted Republicans' ire, the labor board's acting general counsel said Boeing broke the law in 2009, when it made plans to create a new production line for its 787 Dreamliner. The aerospace company chose to locate its line in South Carolina, rather than in Washington state, where it had an existing workforce of unionized employees. The NLRB's acting general counsel said Boeing's move was retaliation against its Washington employees with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who had gone on strike in the past.
Unions have hailed the filing as a victory for workers, while business groups have called it a case of federal meddling in corporate decision-making. The complaint has thrown the future of the South Carolina factory into limbo.
Although the NLRB has downplayed the significance of the complaint, Republican senators have nonetheless decried it as an attack on free enterprise and right-to-work states like South Carolina. Right-to-work laws prohibit agreements between unions and companies that make union membership a requirement of employment. Generally favored by Republicans and corporate interests, such laws are currently on the books in 22 states, particularly ones in the South.
Dan Yager, general counsel of the HR Policy Association, argued at the press conference that Boeing is being "penalized" for negotiating with the machinists union. Even though he expects Boeing to win the case, Yager claimed the filing will have a chilling effect on companies trying to move into right-to-work states.
"If you're an employer who wants to stay out of court… sort of what the general counsel says is the law," he said.
With litigation that could last well over a year, the Boeing complaint is quickly becoming a significant campaign issue leading up to the 2012 elections: Republicans are looking to paint Barack Obama administration as anti-business and in the pocket of labor unions.
That was certainly the theme of the Chamber event, where a host of Republican lawmakers took to the podium to knock not only the NLRB, but the White House as well. Last week, several Republicans vowed to block President Obama's nominees to the labor board.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who had tough words for the labor board last week, escalated his rhetoric Tuesday morning. He called the complaint "chilling" and "absurd."
"This is legal slander," Graham added. "There has never been a case like this. ... This is politics run amok."
Last week Graham and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said they planned on introducing a bill written expressly to nullify the April 20 Boeing complaint. On Tuesday, the lawmakers said the bill is still being tweaked, but will probably be introduced this week.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) leveled his criticism directly at NLRB acting general counsel Lafe Solomon, who filed the complaint.
"It is absurd in this country that represents free enterprise that one unaccountable, unelected, unconfirmed acting general counsel can threaten thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments. This is something you'd expect in a third world country," he said. "It is thuggery at its best."
"The pandering to unions has gotten so far out of proportion, it's difficult to accept," DeMint added, in reference to the White House.
In a statement yesterday, Solomon defended the move.
"There is nothing remarkable or unprecedented about the complaint issued against the Boeing Company," he wrote. "It was issued only after a thorough investigation in the field."
In a recent interview with the New York Times, Solomon said he filed the complaint against Boeing because of strong evidence it had tried to move the production line out of retaliation. In company documents and news interviews, Boeing executives had explicitly cited the strikes as a reason for expanding into South Carolina.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) wondered aloud whether the Boeing complaint indicated the White House had an "enemies list."
"Mr. President… is this decision based on the fact that South Carolina appears to be Republican state?" Paul asked. "That South Carolina is a right-to-work state? I find this appalling, and I respectfully ask the president to rescind this assault on businesses."
Asked whether she agreed with Paul, if she believed the White House may have an enemies list, Gov. Haley said, "Right now no one knows what the White House is doing."