WASHINGTON -- In their latest effort to aid the Boeing Company, House Republicans took the extraordinary step on Thursday of voting to strip the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of much of its power.
The bill, entitled the Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act, would bar the federal labor board from ordering a company to close or relocate a workplace, even if that company has violated labor law. Thursday's House vote fell along party lines, with 238 Republicans for the bill and 186 Democrats against it.
The bill is designed expressly to thwart a controversial complaint brought by the NLRB against Boeing that has put the future of a South Carolina Boeing plant into limbo.
Although Republicans claim the law would save South Carolina jobs, Democrats and union leaders say it would gut the 77-year-old independent agency of its authority, while also letting Boeing off the hook for alleged misdeeds.
The NLRB's acting general counsel filed the complaint in April, alleging that the aerospace giant violated labor law when it established a production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. The move was retaliation against Boeing's unionized workers in Washington state for having gone on strike in the past, the complaint alleged. If Boeing and the board don't settle the case, the company could feasibly be forced to close its South Carolina facility and bring the work to Washington.
The complaint has infuriated Republicans, particularly those from South Carolina. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has claimed that the labor board, which is tasked with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act, has a pro-union "agenda," while House Republicans have assailed the board as an anti-business, job-killing agent of the Obama administration.
Republicans have also said that the board is meddling in corporate decision-making by "dictating" where a company can set up shop, and that the board's complaint will ultimately help to send jobs overseas.
But House Democrats and labor leaders have said the Republican bill will end up doing just that, since it will remove the labor board's only remedy against a company that has illegally relocated jobs. Many have deemed it "an outsourcer's bill of rights."
"Under this bill, if a company wants to bust a union by outsourcing its work to China, this bill permits it," Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) said on the House floor. "Working people across this country should pay careful attention to this bill. It takes away every working American’s rights."
Meanwhile, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), one of the most vocal critics of the NLRB, said the board was exercising a "radical" authority in its Boeing complaint that would have "a chilling effect on our economy."
"It's time we forced the NLRB to change course," he said on the floor.
Many conservatives have vowed to either defund the board or cripple it. Although the House bill would go a long way in accomplishing the latter, it is highly unlikely to pass through a Democrat-controlled Senate.
Nonetheless, business groups have rallied around Republicans on the issue. The labor board has issued a number of decisions and rules in recent months that have rankled the business community, including a rule made public last month that will require employers to post a notice in the workplace informing workers of their rights under labor law.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce designated Thursday's a "key vote," calling it an "important step to reining in the NLRB."
"Businesses considering investing in new facilities in the United States will think twice and need to consider the risk that their decisions may be second guessed by the NLRB," the Chamber wrote in an alert to members. "[T]his legislation would help remove an element of uncertainty and encourage investment in new U.S. facilities."
The board's acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, has defended the Boeing complaint, saying it was issued only after a careful consideration of the facts. He has also said that the White House had nothing to do with the complaint, despite Republican claims.
The Boeing case is now before a federal administrative law judge in Seattle.
"The decision had absolutely nothing to do with political considerations," Solomon told reporters in a statement this week. "Regrettably, some have chosen to insert politics into what should be a straightforward legal procedure. These continuing political attacks are baseless and unprecedented and take the focus away from where it belongs -- the ongoing trial in Seattle."