Updated: President Obama In A Tough Spot On Boeing-NLRB Case

Boeing 787 DreamlinerThe International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers and the National labour Relations Board seek to stop Boeing from opening an assembly plant in South Carolina for the 787 Dreamliner.

UPDATE, 5:50: TalkingPointsMemo is reporting that Obama Commerce Secretary nominee, and former Boeing board member, John Bryson took the company’s side against the National labour Relations Board during his confirmation hearings earlier today. 

“I think it’s not the right judgment,” he said of the NLRB in response to a question about the case from Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R). “Maybe if I’m … I wasn’t thinking of it so much as regulation, it seemed like such an unexpected kind of legal proceeding that none of us on the board – we thought we were doing the right thing for the country and we looked hard at maintaining the jobs in Washington and expanding the jobs elsewhere for the benefit of the country and never thought for example of putting those jobs outside the U.S.”


EARLIER: In the latest development in Boeing’s ongoing dispute with its main union, last week the aerospace giant filed a motion to dismiss the pending court case threatening to prevent it from opening a new assembly plant in South Carolina. This afternoon, the National labour Relations Board will file a counter-motion to keep the case in court.

At issue is whether Boeing’s decision to open the South Carolina plant constitutes retaliation against the The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), whose 2008 strike crippled the company and set back production of the company’s new Dreamliner jet.

Boeing contends the move is simply a response to incentives and lower wages in South Carolina, though in a video interview with the Seattle Times, Boeing executive vice president Jim Albaugh said preventing another strike was a key motivator for the move. “The overriding factor was not the business climate, and it was not the wages we’re paying people today,” he said. “It was that we can’t afford to have a work stoppage every three years.”

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) was in Washington last month to try to force Obama to take a position on the suit — something Obama seems unwilling to do.

Unions played a major role in helping Obama win the White House in 2008, and he needs them to play a similar role organising for his reelection. Complicating his political calculus, both Obama’s Chief of Staff William Daley, and his nominee to head the Department of Commerce, John Bryson have served on Boeing’s board.

The union, for its part, wants the President to stay out of it.

“As far as the president becoming involved, we see him as leading by example and staying out of it. This is not a matter for politicians to be throwing their weight around on,” Frank Larkin, a spokesman for the union, told The Washington Post.

While litigation continues, barbs continue to fly between both camps. Sen. Lindsey Graham is the subject of an official ethics complain filed by the union alleging he is trying to pressure the NLRB into dropping the case, according to the Associated Press. Graham released a statement today accusing the union of trying to intimidate him, adding “it’s not going to stop me from fighting for the people of South Carolina.”

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