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Freeman Brown: NLRB Brouhaha Is About Politics, Not Boeing

When Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board, issued a complaint against the Boeing Co. this spring, conservative pundits and corporate-backed politicians were quick to denounce the agency’s action as an overreach of epic proportions.

They claimed it was a shameless attack on business and, as Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) put it, nothing short of third-world “thuggery.”

Earlier this month, GOP members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee brought Solomon before a hearing in South Carolina.

But the controversy that they’re attempting to stir up around Boeing has very little to do with substance and everything to do with politics.

Hyperbole and heated rhetoric aside, it doesn’t take much digging to conclude that Solomon’s decision to issue a complaint hardly warrants the brouhaha. Not only was his action well within the scope of the NLRB’s purpose, even a basic understanding of U.S. labor law makes it clear that — given the circumstances of the case — he didn’t have much of a choice.

The NLRB is charged with enforcing the National Labor Relations Act — the law that governs workplace relations between most workers and their employers in the private sector as well as protects employees’ right to form unions and engage in concerted activity. It’s a mission that has remained unchanged for 75 years, under presidents and legislators from both sides of the aisle.

Solomon has worked for the NLRB since 1972, serving both Republican and Democratic board members during his tenure.

Given the board’s mandate and the seriousness of the allegations, the complaint against Boeing is entirely appropriate. The National Labor Relations Act doesn’t allow companies to move operations to avoid their employees having a voice on the job through their union, and Boeing made numerous statements to its employees and to the media that suggest it was doing just that — moving production away from its Washington state facility to South Carolina in response to workers there exercising their rights.

By looking into Boeing’s actions, the NLRB is carrying out its responsibilities under the law. This is not a partisan departure from the agency’s mission, and it has nothing to do with South Carolina or its status as a “right to work” state. The matter at hand is Boeing’s message to its Washington state workforce, not the specific location for a new plant.

And let’s not forget, the complaint against Boeing is just that — a complaint. The next step began June 14 with the first in a series of hearings where both sides will have ample opportunity to make their case.

Of course, you’d never know it to hear the outcry from the right because their ultimate goal has nothing to do with Boeing. Their true aim is to strip workers of any and all means to protect the economic interests of their families by discrediting, defunding and dismantling the NLRB.

Joined by corporate interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, these lawmakers have broadcast outrage over even the most minute advances for America’s workers, such as the board’s proposed rule requiring businesses to post notices informing employees of their rights under the law.

And in case there were any lingering doubts about their true motivation, House Republicans submitted a 2011 budget that would have cut $50 million from the agency’s funding. Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) introduced an amendment to defund it entirely.

These attempts to undermine the agency put workers in double jeopardy — vulnerable to exploitative employers and without recourse when their rights are violated. But workers and businesses alike deserve a level playing field and a system where everyone abides by the rules. That means that when someone breaks the law, whether it’s an employer or a union, they’re held accountable.

So when it comes to Boeing, the agency is simply doing its job. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some Members of Congress, who seem more concerned with playing political games than doing what they were elected to do: create jobs and power an economic recovery that gives everyone a fair chance to get ahead.

I’m hopeful Americans will see through this trumped-up firestorm over Boeing, so we can all get back to business.

Kimberly Freeman Brown is executive director of American Rights at Work, a labor policy and advocacy organization.

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