NLRB’s Solomon Responds to Boeing Letter As Controversy Continues Over Legal Dispute

Addressing the controversy over his authorization of an unfair labor practice complaint against Boeing Co., National Labor Relations Board Acting General Counsel Lafe E. Solomon May 9 said there was “nothing remarkable or unprecedented” about his action, which he took only after a thorough investigation and careful review by NLRB employees.

Solomon’s comments accompanied the release of a written response he sent to Boeing’s General Counsel J. Michael Luttig, who May 3 criticized the complaint, which alleged Boeing unlawfully transferred some production of its 787 Dreamliner airplanes from Washington state to South Carolina. In a lengthy letter to Solomon, Luttig charged the complaint rested on misstatements about Boeing’s conduct “that cannot be credibly maintained under law.”

In brief response to Luttig, Solomon said he disagrees with Luttig’s contentions, but believes the ”appropriate forum” to test the position of the parties “is through the development of an evidentiary record on which an administrative law judge can make a decision which can be reviewed by the Board and ultimately the Courts.”

Solomon authorized an April 20 unfair labor practice complaint alleging Boeing illegally transferred some of the planned assembly of its Dreamliners to South Carolina because employees at Boeing’s Puget Sound facilities supported lawful International Association of Machinists strikes against the company (77 DLR AA-1, 4/21/11).

But Luttig argued in his letter to the acting general counsel that South Carolina workers will be handling only “new work” needed to meet “historic demand” for the jetliner, which has not yet gone into production (86 DLR A-12, 5/4/11).

Asserting that “no work—none at all—was ‘removed’ or ‘transferred’ from Puget Sound,” Luttig insisted that the company’s creation of jobs in South Carolina has not adversely affected any union-represented employee. He argued that the NLRB complaint mischaracterized statements by Boeing officials in support of its allegation that the company’s building a second assembly line in South Carolina was improperly motivated by the lawful union activity of its Puget Sound employees.

The Boeing dispute has sparked political controversy, as nineteen Republican senators told President Obama in a May 4 letter they consider the NLRB complaint against Boeing to be a “government-led act of intimidation” against employers that build manufacturing plants in right-to-work states. They vowed to block confirmation of two of Obama’s nominees to the agency if the White House does not withdraw the nominations (87 DLR A-10, 5/5/11).

A House committee is also moving to investigate the Boeing case. In a May 5 letter to Solomon, Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), chairman of the panel’s Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee, expressed concern that the case “could have significant consequences for job-creators and workers. They made a formal request for documents explaining and supporting the acting general counsel’s decision to issue the complaint.

Republicans Attacking All of Labor, IAM Says

Meanwhile, addressing the NLRB complaint May 9, Richard Michalski, general vice president of IAM, contended that the “right-wing” response is “raising the stakes and they’re actually attacking all of labor.”

Addressing delegates to an IAM legislative conference being held in Washington, D.C., May 9-12, Michalski cited another letter sent by Republican Senators last week, this one from nine Republicans on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee to Solomon, condemning the NLRB as well as the acting general counsel (85 DLR A-1, 5/3/11).

In addition, he alleged that during the investigation leading up to the issuance of the complaint, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened NLRB officers and investigators, telling them that if the complaint were issued there would be “severe and economic consequences.”

Michalski said “this is a defining moment,” adding it is “an attack on all of labor. Can you image, the National Mediation Board, if you’re in transportation, or the NLRB, they would be timid if they get smacked down on this thing. You’ll never get a charge issued on anything because a precedent has been set. A senator …can attack us blatantly and get away with it. Well, they’re not going to get away with it,” he said.

When asked to comment on the allegations, Graham’s communication director told BNA in a May 9 e-mail, “Senator Graham has made it clear that if the NLRB is successful it will do damage to the South Carolina economy. ”

As for the complaint itself, Michalski told the delegates to let their representatives know that Boeing engaged in a “clear violation” of the National Labor Relations Act. What the company did amounted to “retribution and revenge” for workers’ exercising their right to strike, he said. “There is no halfpregnant statement here. Either they are right or they are wrong, and in this case they are wrong,” he added.

By Lawrence E. Dubé and Michelle Amber @ BNA