Email this article to a friend

Working In These Times

Thursday, Jul 28, 2011, 2:18 pm

Issa and NLRB Continue Duel, as Boeing CEO Threatens to Shift More Production

BY Mike Elk

Two machinists union (IAM) stewards talk with a TV reporter outside the U.S. Court House in Seattle during the first day of motions in the NRLB's complaint against Boeing. The company's reaction to a 2008 strike by IAM workers led to the NLRB case.   (Photo via IAM District 751)

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this month, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Lafe Solomon with a subpoena if he did not hand over key internal deliberative documents relating to the Boeing case by 5 p.m. on Tuesday July 26.

Solomon hasn't complied. On July 26, he wrote to Issa asking him to reconsider his document request, saying “I respectfully ask that you reconsider our request to apply your June 17 ruling at the South Carolina hearing to our production of documents, which would allow the Committee to have access to requested information as soon as it becomes available to the parties and the administrative law judge at the hearing. “

Solomon's reason for not handing over the documents was that "disclosure of documents and information not available to both Boeing and the Machinists could result in an unfair advantage to one party over another and risk harm to the integrity of the Agency’s legal process.” He said Issa’s document request flies in the face of Issa’s previous ground rules for Solomon’s testimony at a June 17 hearing held in South Carolina.

You ruled that “[a]ny time which is not discoverable by the defendant, will be considered out of bounds for any question.” In other words, you concluded that it would be inappropriate for Committee members to ask me to provide information not yet available to Boeing.

In justifying his decision not to hand over documents, Solomon cited a legal ruling handed down in the case by the judge in the Boeing case, Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson, denying the requests made by Boeing for the identical documents.

If the NLRB General Counsel’s office refuses to hand over documents after they are subpoenaed, Issa could then move to charge Solomon with contempt of Congress. Solomon would become the first Obama administration official charged with contempt of Congress—creating a political headache for the Obama Administration. Issa’s office did not respond to requests for comment despite numerous requests.

In another interesting twist to the case, while Boeing has demanded a large amount of documents from both union and NLRB officials, the company is not willing to let the public know about documents related to the tax incentives it is receiving from South Carolina where union work from Washington state was moved. Likewise, Boeing is refusing to disclose some of the details related to “Project Olympus” – a 2003 deal with the State of Washington that was thought to ensure the 787 aircraft would be built there.

Among some of the documents that IAM Local 751 Spokeswoman Connie Kelliher says Boeing won’t release are studies comparing the cost of leaving 787 production in Washington State and studies showing what it would cost Boeing to shut down a third temporary assembly line in Washington.

Despite the fact that details of the tax deals from Washington state would help legally establish Boeing commitment's to expand in Washington State, Boeing has asked that the NLRB clear the courtroom anytime these documents are discussed.

“We suspect the documents Boeing wants to keep secret prove that Boeing executives didn’t make a legitimate business decision to transfer work from Everett to Charleston, but instead broke the law by moving because of union activity here,” Kelliher said in a press release. “It doesn’t surprise us that Boeing would want to keep any incriminating documents secret, but our laws don’t permit secret tribunals.”

A hearing is scheduled on Boeing’s motion to keep documents from the public today in Seattle. The scene is expected to be tense, as yesterday Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney shocked the aerospace world when he announced on a conference call that 737 jet production intended for Renton, Wash., may go elsewhere.

“It just sounds like they are basically threatening to abandon Puget Sound,” said IAM Local 751 Spokesman Bryan Corliss. The production was widely expected to go to Washington state

Tensions are quickly rising, with Congress threatening to subpoena the NLRB and Boeing considering moving even more production away from the unionized workforce in Washington. The push by Boeing and its Republican allies in Congress against NLRB and the union could have a huge effect not just on labor law, but on the role of the NLRB in enforcing labor law for generations to come.

Mike Elk is an In These Times Staff Writer and a regular contributor to the labor blog Working In These Times. He can be reached at mike@inthesetimes.com.

View Comments