House GOP launches attack on labor board

Republicans use Boeing-Machinists dispute to undermine worker rights

UNDER THE PRETEXT that the National Labor Relations Board has overreached in a case involving Boeing and the Machinists union, U.S. House Republicans have moved to strip away the NLRB’s ability to enforce labor laws protecting workers.

On Sept. 15, the House passed the “Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act” (H.R. 2587). The act’s noble-sounding name belies the fact that its intent is to allow large corporations to trample long-established legal protections that prevent employers from retaliating — such as through firings or relocating a factory — when workers strike or engage in other protected activities.

H.R. 2587 is unlikely to be brought up in the Senate, where Democrats maintain a slim majority. However, should the 2012 elections give Republicans control of both houses of Congress and the presidency, H.R. 2587, or some variant, could very well become law.

Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina sponsored H.R. 2587 in reaction to a complaint filed against Boeing by the NLRB on April 20. In the complaint, board acting general counsel Lafe Solomon charged that the company transferred a second production line of its 787 Dreamliner commercial jet from Seattle, where Machinists from District 751 are employed, to a new nonunion facility in Charleston, S.C., “for discriminatory reasons.”

During the most recent contract negotiations between Boeing and the Machinists, the company had attempted to obtain the union’s guarantee not to strike. When that failed, Boeing announced it would move the production line to Charleston. The Machinists have obtained documentation that shows the company considered a number of options for the second line, but it chose Charleston, even though it admitted that the site offered the highest business risk.

During a recent Machinists press conference in Seattle sponsored by the International Labor Communications Association, ILCA President Steve Stallone stated, “[The case] calls into question the basic legal rights of workers. Boeing broke the law; they got caught. They thought they were so big they didn’t have to worry about it. Now that they’ve been caught violating the law, at this point what they’re trying to do is have their Republican friends in Congress either change the law or defund a federal agency so it can’t enforce . . . the National Labor Relations Act.”