NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. —The top lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board told a congressional committee Friday that while an NLRB complaint against Boeing Co. may make South Carolina workers feel vulnerable and anxious, the legal action is aimed at protecting the rights of workers everywhere.
The NLRB is suing the aeronautics giant alleging the manufacturer located its new 787 jet assembly line in South Carolina to retaliate against union workers in Washington state who went on strike in 2008.
The congressional hearing is the latest episode in a dispute between the NLRB, which has a majority of Democratic appointees, and GOP lawmakers and Boeing. The NLRB wants that work returned to Washington state, even though the company opened its $750 million South Carolina plant last week.
"Boeing has every right to manufacture planes in South Carolina, or anywhere else, for that matter, as long as those decisions are based on legitimate business considerations," Lafe Solomon, the agency's acting general counsel, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Relations meeting in South Carolina.
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South Carolina's Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who with 15 other GOP governors asked that the complaint be dismissed, called the complaint "an attack on our employers trying to keep business in America."
The plant represents the single largest industrial investment in the history of South Carolina, a right-to-work state.
The NLRB complaint went before a judge in Seattle earlier in the week and an attorney for Boeing asked that it be dismissed, adding it had cast a shadow over the company's employees, supplies and investments. The company said that no one has lost a job in Washington state and that Boeing has added more than 3,000 jobs at its assembly site in Everett, Wash.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson called the complaint "the shot heard around the business world" and said it could allow the NLRB to decide where companies invest business capital.
Haley warned that workers across the nation could suffer if companies take business overseas.
"The retaliation is coming from the president. The retaliation is coming from the NLRB. It is not coming from Boeing," she said.
Solomon told the panel's Republican chairman, Darrell Issa of California, that the White House played no role in his decision to bring the complaint.
Before the hearing began, a small group of protesters gathered outside holding signs saying Chicago-based Boeing must create jobs legally.
Georgette Carr, who has worked as a union dock worker for 10 years, said South Carolina needs good jobs but that "companies that come here need to play by the rules."
Democrats on the committee strongly questioned why the panel was holding a field hearing the same week the NLRB complaint went to court.
"I am very concerned about the timing. His (Solomon's) testimony today raises questions about the due process rights of litigants," said U.S. Rep. Carolyn Malony of New York.
Haley has made no secret that she opposes unions.
The International Association of Machinists and AFL-CIO sued earlier this year, asking for a court order telling Haley and state Department of Labor director Catherine Templeton to remain neutral in union matters in South Carolina.
The lawsuit stemmed from several remarks, including those Haley made last December when she nominated Templeton. Haley said her background would be helpful in state fights against unions, particularly at the new Boeing plant.
A federal judge is expected to rule next week on a motion to dismiss that case.