WASHINGTON -- Republicans escalated their attacks on the federal labor board under Obama Friday afternoon, as House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) called a special field session in South Carolina to probe a recent complaint brought by the labor board's acting general counsel against the Boeing Company.
Issa took the unusual step of urging the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) general counsel, Lafe Solomon, to appear before the committee to answer questions regarding a case that he's currently in the midst of litigating.
"I am here reluctantly," Solomon said under questioning from Issa, "not because I have anything to provide but because I have a lot to protect."
While Solomon appeared before the committee voluntarily, he mostly dodged Republicans' heated questions about his complaint against Boeing, saying he didn't want to jeopardize his case. The toughest inquiry came from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who effectively accused the Obama administration and the labor board of having a grudge against the South.
"This administration is no longer content with class warfare," Gowdy charged. "It's going to inject regional warfare." A spokesman for Gowdy could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a complaint filed in April, Solomon alleged that Boeing violated labor law when it moved to establish a production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. The company, Solomon said, was retaliating against its unionized workers in Washington state for having exercised their legally protected right to strike in the past. The complaint could potentially scuttle the aerospace manufacturer's plans in South Carolina and force the company to bring the assembly line to Washington. Along with his Democratic defenders, Solomon, who functions as a prosecutor for the quasi-judicial labor board, has said he brought the complaint only because he has a responsibility to enforce labor law.
Although Solomon and many law scholars have said there is nothing unique about the complaint, over the last few months Republicans have held it up as proof that the labor board and the Obama administration have a pro-union agenda and an axe to grind with right-to-work states. Such states, which tend to be in the South and West, prohibit laws that make union membership a condition of working for particular companies.
Republican leadership chose to locate the special hearing in North Charleston, S.C., the community most impacted if the production line ends up going to Washington state. The hearing was dramatically entitled "Unionization Through Regulation: The NLRB's Holding Pattern on Free Enterprise," an indication that Republicans are eager to turn the Boeing case into an ideological battle as well as a campaign issue.
A host of Washington lawmakers, including four Democrats, traveled to South Carolina for the hearing. Among those who testified were South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, and Cynthia Ramaker, an employee at the local Boeing plant, who testified that "thousands of people will be unemployed if the NLRB complaint is successful."
But on Friday Solomon said that he filed the complaint reluctantly, only after he was unable to bring Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers to an agreement. He said that three months of negotiations ultimately proved fruitless.
"Workers in North Charleston are feeling vulnerable and anxious because they are uncertain as to what impact any final decision may have on their employment with Boeing," testified Solomon, a career NLRB lawyer. "These are difficult economic times, and I truly regret the anxiety this case has caused them and their families. The issuance of the complaint was not intended to harm the workers of South Carolina, but rather, to protect the rights of workers, regardless of where they are employed."
Republicans have used the Boeing controversy to paint the president and fellow Democrats as job killers -- a point of attack they continued on Friday. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) called Solomon's complaint "an unprecedented expansion of big government determining where companies can locate," and "an assault on Boeing which kills jobs."
Striking a similar note, Haley accused both the labor board and the Obama administration of encouraging employers to send jobs overseas.
"The reason [Boeing] came to South Carolina is the cost of doing business is low," Haley said. "As governor, my job is to do whatever I can to create jobs. I never thought the president and his appointees would be one of the biggest opponents we would have."
But Julius Getman, a law professor at the University of Texas, testified that Solomon's complaint was "fairly routine" and had been greatly politicized. "This is not by any means an earth-shaking case," he said. "It’s a traditional case which should be decided in accordance with principles of law that are over 50 years old."
The case against Boeing got underway before an administrative law judge in Seattle earlier this week. If the parties still don't manage to settle, the five-member labor board will ultimately decide whether Boeing broke labor law by establishing its production line in South Carolina. The case will mostly likely last several weeks and can then be appealed. Solomon said Friday that he would like to avoid long and costly litigation.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), who attended the hearing Friday, told HuffPost afterwards that the "circus-like" proceedings amounted to little more than "political theater" meant to stoke the Republican base and donors. Braley also bristled at the idea of lawmakers compelling Solomon to testify on a case that just got underway this week.
"It's the same thing we saw under the Bush administration: Lawyers who forgot what they learned in law school, who forgot what due process is," Braley said. "They don’t care because they're all about doing this for political purposes."