Harkin Statement on Attacks on National Labor Relations Board

WASHINGTON—Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, spoke on the Senate floor to address recent attacks on the National Labor Relations Board regarding its handling of a complaint against Boeing.

Below are his full remarks as prepared for delivery:

“Mr. President, recently, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against the Boeing Company alleging that the company violated the National Labor Relations Act.  This routine administrative procedure set off a melodramatic outcry from the business community.  A headline on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page called it “The Death of Right to Work.”  South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared that it was “government-dictated economic larceny.”  The senior Senator from Utah, Senator Hatch, warned that foot soldiers of a vast and permanent bureaucracy were trying to implement a leftist agenda.  You would think that capitalism itself was threatened.

“So instead of talking about how we can get Americans working again and get the middle class back on its feet, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have chosen to spend their time on the Senate floor attacking the handling of a routine unfair labor practice charge.  While I don’t necessarily think debating this issue is the best use of the Senate’s time, I feel compelled to respond because of the disturbing misinformation that has distorted the public discussion of this case.

“They say that a lie travels halfway around the world before the truth can put its boots on – I’d say in the Senate misinformation travels even faster than that.  So it’s time to set the record straight.

“Here are the facts in this case:  Boeing recently decided to locate its production facility for new Dreamliner planes in South Carolina.  The NLRB’s complaint alleges that this decision was unlawful retaliation against Boeing workers in Washington State, who had previously gone on strike.  According to the complaint, Boeing management repeatedly, publicly stated that they were going to build their new planes in South Carolina rather than Washington because the unionized workers in Washington went on strike too often.  Arguably, this violates the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits retaliation against employees who stand up for their rights.

“I have no opinion about whether or not Boeing violated the NLRA.  It is not my job to determine the merits of this case, and, likewise, it is not the job of my colleagues in Congress.  We do not know all the facts and have not studied all of the cases interpreting the law.  But I do believe that the case should be decided impartially and should not be derailed by political interference or opportunism.

“Opponents of workers’ rights have said that this complaint was issued because President Obama’s labor-friendly appointees on the Board were doing political favors for their union friends.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

“This case has been handled without favoritism or political interference.  The facts in the case were investigated by dedicated, strictly nonpartisan career employees of the National Labor Relations Board, and career attorneys reviewed the legal precedent for the case.  Because the case involved novel issues of law, the regional office consulted the Division of Advice in Washington DC.  These are attorneys who are scholars of the law and have studied the legislative intent and the 75 years of decisions by our courts interpreting the NLRA.  They carefully reviewed the case and made their recommendation that the General Counsel should issue a complaint.

“Prior to issuing the complaint, Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon – a career employee who spent more than 30 years working at the NLRB under both Republican and Democrat superiors – made every effort to resolve the dispute.  Solomon and the NLRB spent months trying to encourage the two sides to settle the dispute.  The parties were unable to come to an agreement, so the General Counsel issued the complaint on April 20th.   A hearing is scheduled for June 14th before an Administrative Law Judge.  Depending on the outcome, the case can be appealed to the National Labor Relations Board and eventually the Federal courts.  That is the process that has been laid out by our laws and, personally, I have faith in that process.  Our system is designed to ensure that the rule of law is applied impartially to all parties.  This case has provoked controversy, and powerful interests have a big stake in the outcome.  This makes it all the more important that we protect the integrity of the process from improper influence.

“The dramatic responses to the complaint have needlessly complicated the issue and the NLRB’s process.   There have been threats to the NLRB budget as well as attempts to link the fate of nominations pending before the Senate HELP Committee to the outcome of the case.  These actions threaten the integrity of our judicial and prosecutorial processes.  This case – like any adjudication handled by an independent agency – should be determined based on the facts and the law, not politics.

“In addition to mischaracterizing the NLRB’s handling of this case, opponents of workers’ rights have also mischaracterized the fundamental issue at stake.  Several public officials, including some of my Senate colleagues, have suggested that this case represents an assault on right to work laws.  Again, that’s just factually incorrect.  There is absolutely no way that the outcome of this case could affect in any way the right to work laws of any state.

“This case is not about right to work laws – it’s about workers’ rights.  If, indeed, the NLRB General Counsel is able to prove that Boeing retaliated against Washington’s workers because they stood up for themselves, that’s a very serious violation of the law, and it deserves a very serious sanction.

“This is about far more than just one group of workers in Washington State.  Unions are one of the few voices left in our society speaking up for the little guy, and the rights provided in the NLRA are one of the few tools that workers can use stand up for fair treatment, including good American jobs that pay good American wages and benefits.  If we let powerful CEOs trample all over these rights without consequences, we might as well give up on having a middle class altogether.

“That’s what this all comes down to.  What we are really witnessing here is another example of the Republican assault on the middle class that has been echoing across the country for months now.  Just as people are rising up in states across the country to tell Governors and other elected leaders not to destroy their rights, we in this body also need to stand up and tell powerful and politically connected corporate CEOs that they are not above our nation’s laws.

“Americans understand fairness, and they resent it when the wealthy and powerful manipulate the political system to reap huge advantages at the expense of working people.  That’s exactly what’s happening in this case.  Powerful corporate interests are pressuring members of this body to interfere with an independent agency, rather than let justice run its course.  And we should not tolerate this interference.

“Instead, we should turn our attention back to the issues that really matter to American families – how we can create jobs in Washington, South Carolina, Iowa, and across the country . . .  how we can rebuild the middle class . . . and how we can ensure that working hard and playing by the rules will help you build a better life for your family and your children.  I plan to spend a lot of time in the HELP Committee this year exploring these issues, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join me in that effort.”