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Boeing Documents From Labor Board Subpoenaed by U.S. House

Boeing Documents From Labor Board Subpoenaed by U.S. House
Boeing Co. employees position the General Electric Co. GE90 engine for a Boeing 777 jet at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Washington. Photographer: Ron Wurzer/Boomberg

A Republican-led U.S. House committee subpoenaed the National Labor Relations Board for documents in the agency’s case against Boeing Co. over a decision to build a South Carolina airplane factory.

Representative Darrell Issa, a California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued the subpoena yesterday, setting Aug. 12 to respond after deeming earlier responses to be inadequate. Lafe Solomon, NLRB acting general counsel, said today the subpoena from Congress is the first against the board since 1940.

“I am disappointed and surprised,” Solomon said in an e-mail statement. “For months, my staff and I have diligently tried to satisfy the committee’s desire for information while also preserving the integrity of our process.”

Republicans led by Issa sought documents in May as part of an investigation into the board’s April 20 decision to lodge the unfair labor case. The complaint claims Chicago-based Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company, built the factory in South Carolina, where workers aren’t required to join a union, to retaliate for five strikes since 1975 in Washington state.

The International Association of Machinists, representing Boeing’s workers, brought the case to the board. It’s against the law to punish workers for striking or joining a union.

“As this matter could take years to resolve and create even more crippling uncertainty for job creators, it is imperative that Congress get complete facts about NLRB’s rationale and its decision-making process in this matter without further delay,” Issa said in a statement yesterday.

1,000 Pages

The board has provided more than 1,000 pages of documents to lawmakers including court transcripts and rulings, as well as legal theories, Solomon said. The board hasn’t communicated with the White House on the complaint, Solomon said, referring to the committee’s requests for those documents.

Providing additional information, such as statements of witnesses who will testify in an administrative hearing that began in June, might establish precedent that may “endanger” future cases, Solomon said.

Boeing has said the decision to build a plant in South Carolina reflected financial considerations and U.S. companies have the right to move work around the country. The plant’s monthly target output will be three jets by 2013, with a goal of seven planes a month in Everett, Washington.

Call Logs

The House oversight panel has been seeking records, such as e-mails and logs of calls between the office of Solomon, the five-member board and the Machinists union. The subpoena from Issa requests documents dating from January 2009 relating to the NLRB’s communications on the Boeing case.

Issa issued the subpoena as the panel’s chairman without letting the committee debate or vote, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the senior Democrat on the committee, said in a statement.

“The chairman has an obligation to use his authority to issue subpoenas responsibly and not to exercise it in an inappropriate manner to assist a private party, even one as powerful as the Boeing Corporation,” Cummings said.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, a New York Democrat, said in June at a hearing of Issa’s committee that the NLRB complaint against Boeing was a legitimate effort to uphold the “right to protest” by union workers.

Eleanor Holmes Norton, the delegate representing the District of Colombia, said the committee’s June 17 hearing in North Charleston, South Carolina, appeared “to taint a legal proceeding” by pressuring the labor board.

‘Premature Disclosure’

The board responded to Issa’s previous letters by providing some communications and withholding other documents, citing an administrative judge’s hearing on the case in Seattle, according to a July 29 letter from Solomon.

“Premature disclosure” of information could “seriously compromise the litigation,” according to the letter.

Tim Neale, a spokesman for Boeing, and Bryan Corliss, a spokesman for the Machinists union, declined to comment on the subpoena.

“That a Washington, D.C.-based bureaucracy could dictate the work location and parameters for a world-leading company is unprecedented in a global economy and hobbles a leading American job creator at a time of economic vulnerability,” Issa said yesterday in the statement.

In a July 28 letter to Solomon, Issa said a “coordinated effort” by Democratic lawmakers and the NLRB was seeking to “obstruct” the committee’s oversight responsibilities.

‘Intimidation To Me’

Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said on May 11 that Republican interference with the board is a “dangerous” challenge to the agency’s independence and “sounds like intimidation to me.”

A hearing on the Boeing complaint began June 14 in Seattle before an administrative law judge. The company should be required to build an additional 787 assembly line in Washington state as a remedy, according to Solomon.

The NLRB complaint misquoted or mischaracterized statements by Boeing executives, according to a May letter by company lawyer J. Michael Luttig.

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