(Updates with vote breakdown in sixth paragraph.)
Sept. 15 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation curbing the powers of the National Labor Relations Board, a move spurred by an April action against Boeing Co. that has become a presidential campaign issue.
The Republican-led House voted 238-186 today for the bill, which would bar the board from ordering companies to close, move or open factories when labor laws are violated. The NLRB general counsel said Boeing should start a second assembly line in Washington state after finding the company built a non-union South Carolina factory to retaliate for labor strikes.
“If the president does not hold the labor board accountable for its job-destroying agenda, Congress will,” said Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican and chairman of the committee that sponsored the measure. “It is time we forced the NLRB to change course.”
Republicans are seeking to weaken the board, which resolves labor disputes, after the NLRB’s April filing in response to a complaint from the International Association of Machinists, representing Boeing’s workers in the Seattle area. The NLRB case has been criticized by South Carolina’s governor and members of the state’s congressional delegation.
“It’s an assault on business, it’s an assault on jobs,” Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said Sept. 12 after visiting Boeing’s new plant in North Charleston, South Carolina. President Barack Obama has put “labor stooges on the NLRB to pursue a political payback strategy,” he said.
The House bill, which would apply to pending cases such as Boeing’s, was backed by eight Democrats from states that have right-to-work laws, which let employees opt out of joining a union. Seven Republicans voted against the bill. The Obama administration in July said it opposed the legislation because it would undermine enforcement of U.S. labor laws.
The bill would have to pass the Democratic-led Senate before going to Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said in May that Republicans criticizing the board were seeking to intimidate an independent agency. Republicans asked Reid yesterday to take up the House bill, and Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina said the Boeing dispute will become an issue in next year’s campaigns.
The measure is an important first step to restore balance between labor-union and employer rights, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the largest U.S. business group, said today in a statement. The National Association of Manufacturers urged the Senate to take up the legislation “as soon as possible.”
‘Cut and Run’
“The NLRB’s actions are having a chilling impact on job creation and causing a great deal of uncertainty for manufacturers,” association President Jay Timmons said in a statement.
Union advocacy groups said the legislation will hurt workers and let employers ignore labor laws.
“The House has rammed through a bill that would leave employees with no protection when companies decide to unlawfully cut and run,” Kimberly Freeman Brown, director of American Rights at Work, a union advocacy group based in Washington, said in a statement.
Companies will be able to ship job overseas at the expense of U.S. workers, Mary Kay Henry, president of the 2.2 million- member Service Employees International Union, said in a statement.
“All this bill would do is make it easier for them to eliminate American jobs,” she said.
‘Baseless’ Political Attacks
Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel for the board, said the decision to file a complaint was based on “a careful investigation” of Boeing’s actions. An administrative judge in Seattle has been hearing arguments in the case since June.
“These continuing political attacks are baseless and unprecedented and take the focus away from where it belongs -- the ongoing trial in Seattle,” Solomon said yesterday in an e- mailed statement.
Democrats said during today’s debate that the bill would take away important remedies needed to prevent companies from moving jobs out of the country in a quest to cut labor costs.
“If a company wants to bust a union by outsourcing its work to China, this bill permits it,” said Representative George Miller, a California Democrat. “Workers would be powerless to support outsourcing.”
Solomon said on April 20 that Boeing violated workers’ rights by deciding to build a plant for its Dreamliner in South Carolina. Boeing said the new factory would improve production stability after five strikes from 1975 through 2008 by the Seattle-area workforce, according to the filing.
It’s illegal in the U.S. for employers to punish workers for joining unions or striking. Boeing has denied such motivation and is fighting the NLRB action.
The South Carolina factory, which opened in July, is the first commercial plant that Boeing has built outside the Seattle area. South Carolina is among 22 right-to-work states.
The bill is H.R. 2587.
--Editors: Steve Geimann, Larry Liebert
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