By Edwin S. Hopson
On April 20, 2011, in a press release, the NLRB’s Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon announced that the General Counsel had issued an unfair labor practice complaint against the Boeing Company alleging that it violated the National Labor Relations Act “by deciding to transfer a second production line to a non-union facility inSouth Carolinafor discriminatory reasons.”
In 2007 Boeing announced that it planned to assemble seven 787 Dreamliner airplanes per month at its Puget Sound facility inWashingtonstate. That facility has employees represented by the International Association of Machinists. Later, Boeing announced that it would create a second production line to assemble an additional three planes per month, and in October 2009, specified that the second line would be placed at its facility inSouth Carolinathat is non-union. According to Solomon, in repeated statements to employees and the media, company executives cited the unionized employees’ past strike activity and the possibility of strikes occurring sometime in the future as the overriding factors in deciding to locate the second line in the non-union facility. After completing its investigation,Solomon, in his press release, stated:
“A worker’s right to strike is a fundamental right guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act,”Mr.Solomonsaid. “We also recognize the rights of employers to make business decisions based on their economic interests, but they must do so within the law. I have worked with the parties to encourage settlement in the hope of avoiding costly litigation, and my door remains open to that possibility.”
The remedy being sought by the NLRB is an order that would require Boeing to maintain the second production line inWashingtonstate. The complaint does not seek closure of theSouth Carolinafacility, nor does it prohibit Boeing from assembling planes there, according to the Board’s press release. A hearing is set for June 14, 2011.
According to a May 4, 2011, article in The Wall Street Journal, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and South Carolina Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, all Republicans, are this week introducing legislation in the Senate “to rein in the labor board’s latest assault on business.” Whether the Republicans can convince enough Democratic Senators to go along will remain to be seen. In addition, according to published reports, a number of Republican Senators have sent President Obama a letter advising him that they will not support and will attempt to block both Solomon and Craig Becker’s nominations to General Counsel and Board Member, respectively.
On May 9, 2011, Acting General Counsel Solomon issued the following statement:
“Contrary to certain public statements made in recent weeks, there is nothing remarkable or unprecedented about the complaint issued against the Boeing Company on April 20. The complaint involves matters of fact and law that are not unique to this case, and it was issued only after a thorough investigation in the field, a further careful review by our attorneys in Washington, and an invitation by me to the parties to present their case and discuss the possibility of a settlement. Only then did I authorize the complaint alleging that certain statements and decisions by Boeing officials were discriminatory under our statute.
It is important to note that the issuance of a complaint is just the beginning of a legal process, which now moves to a hearing before an administrative law judge. That hearing, scheduled for June 14 in Seattle, is the appropriate time and place to argue the merits of the complaint. The judge’s decision can further be appealed to the Board, and ultimately to the federal courts. At any point in this process, the parties could reach a settlement agreement and we remain willing to participate in any such discussions at the request of either or both parties. We hope all interested parties respect the legal process, rather than trying to litigate this case in the media and public arena.”