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April 2011, Week 4

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Labor Board Case Against Boeing Points to Fights to Come
	
April 22, 2011

By STEVEN GREENHOUSE

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/business/23labor.html

For businesses, it was the type of action they have
feared from a National Labor Relations Board dominated
by Democrats. For labor unions, it was the type of
action they have hoped for. And for both, it may be a
sign of things to come.

These fears and hopes were stirred this week when the
labor board’s top lawyer filed a case against Boeing,
seeking to force it to move airplane production from a
nonunion plant in South Carolina to a unionized one in
Washington State. Boeing executives had publicly said
they were making the move to avoid the kind of strikes
the airplane maker had repeatedly faced in Washington;
Lafe Solomon, the labor board’s acting general counsel,
said the company’s motive constituted illegal
retaliation against workers for exercising their right
to strike.

The agency’s unusually bold action angered business
groups and some politicians, who said it was an
unwarranted attempt by the government to interfere with
a fundamental corporate decision.

But under President Obama’s appointees, the agency,
including Mr. Solomon and his staff, has sought to
reinterpret and more vigorously enforce the rules
governing employers and employees, from what workers
can say about their bosses on Twitter to the use of
Internet and phone voting in union elections.

How much ultimately changes will depend in large part
on the decisions made by the five-member board, led by
Wilma Liebman, that sits atop the agency. That panel
hears cases brought by the board’s regional offices —
overseen by Mr. Solomon — after employers, workers or
unions file complaints.

Democratic-dominated boards often tilt toward unions
and reverse the decisions of Republican-leaning boards,
which usually tilt toward management, and vice versa.
The current board — made up of three Democrats and one
Republican, with one vacancy — is expected to reverse a
Bush-era decision that stripped graduate teaching
assistants at private universities of their right to
bargain collectively. Labor experts also predict that
the board will adopt a policy that makes it easier to
organize nursing home workers by allowing unions to go
after smaller units of workers inside those homes.

The biggest surprise has been the activist stance taken
by Mr. Solomon, a career civil servant at the board for
39 years. He became acting general counsel in June
2010, and President Obama nominated him to be the
permanent general counsel last January. The Senate has
not yet confirmed him to the post.

In the Boeing case, Mr. Solomon charged that the
company had illegally moved some production work of the
787 Dreamliner passenger plane to South Carolina to
punish workers for past strikes and to avoid future
ones. The remedy proposed by Mr. Solomon has been
denounced as extreme by many business leaders: that
Boeing move the work back to its unionized Puget Sound
facilities, after it made a $2 billion investment and
hired 1,000 nonunion workers in South Carolina.

Outraged, the National Association of Manufacturers
warned that if the agency won this case, “no company
will be safe from the N.L.R.B. stepping in to
second-guess its business decisions on where to
expand.”

Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina Republican,
complained, “This is nothing more than a political
favor for the unions who are supporting President
Obama’s re-election campaign.”

The Boeing case was not the first time that Mr. Solomon
has riled the business community and its Republican
allies. Saying it is the domain of the federal
government, he recently threatened to sue four
Republican-heavy states — Arizona, South Carolina,
South Dakota and Utah — in an effort to invalidate
recent constitutional amendments that prohibit private
sector workers from choosing a union by signing cards,
a process known as card check.

He has also sought to extend the labor board’s reach
into the world of the Internet. He approved requests
from regional labor board officials to bring complaints
against businesses that punished employees for Facebook
and Twitter posts, including one case against Reuters.
Mr. Solomon has also proposed that electronic voting be
used when workers decide whether they want to unionize
their workplace — a proposal that business groups
maintain will make it easier for unions to coerce
workers.

In an interview, Mr. Solomon, a 61-year-old Arkansas
native, insisted that he was no radical.

“My goal is to enforce the National Labor Relations
Act,” he said. That law, enacted in 1935, governs
private sector workers’ right to unionize as well as
relations between tens of thousands of companies and
employees.

Mr. Solomon, who has worked for board members of both
parties, said this case was straightforward: Boeing had
retaliated against workers for exercising their
federally protected right to strike. “They had a
consistent message that they were doing this to punish
their employees for having struck and having the power
to strike in the future,” he said. “I can’t not issue a
complaint in the face of such evidence.”

While the spotlight is on Mr. Solomon at the moment,
people inside the agency and out expect that attention
will soon move to the five-member board, whose
decisions often have broad effect, much like court
precedents.

Marshall Babson, a Republican member of the board under
President Reagan, said the board had “teed up a lot of
important issues for consideration.” He said its
behavior had been more moderate than the Reagan board,
which, he recalls, reversed about two dozen pro-union
decisions in one year.

The Obama board is expected to reverse a Bush-era
decision that lets workers petition to decertify a
union within days of a company’s recognizing a union
through card check. That new ruling would most likely
restore the old requirement that workers had to wait a
year before trying to oust their union.

To finish reading the article, visit the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/23/business/23labor.html

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