Labor allies are defending the White House from attacks by South Carolina Gov. NIkki Haley (R) and other Republican lawmakers over a union dispute with Boeing, accusing them of interfering with an independent federal agency.
At the Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Haley and other Republicans called on President Obama to condemn the independent National Labor Relations Board, which is tasked with enforcing labor laws, for suing Boeing over a production line in South Carolina that it says constitutes illegal retaliation against unionized Boeing workers in Washington State. Obama has no direct control over the agency, but does choose its members, and Republicans have sought to block appointments they consider too pro-labor.
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, issued a statement accusing the GOP of an “overly dramatic response” to a “routine unfair labor practice charge.” He added that it was unfair to target the White House when it has no say in the NLRB’s lawsuit.
“That’s what this all comes down to: powerful corporate interests are pressuring public officials to interfere with an independent agency, rather than let justice run its course,” Harkin said. “And we should not tolerate this interference. Instead, we should turn our attention back to the issues that really matter to American families – how we can create jobs in Washington, South Carolina, Iowa, and across the country?”Kimberly Freeman Brown, executive director of labor advocacy group American Rights at Work, a labor advocacy group, also raised the specter of political interference.
“If we stand to learn anything from Gov. Nikki Haley’s press conference today, it’s that the recent uproar over the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing has nothing to do with the economy and everything to do with politics,” she said in a statement. “The reality is that the NLRB is a neutral agency charged with protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that unions and businesses play by the rules in America’s workplaces.”
Haley and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were asked at their press conference on Tuesday whether President Obama could do anything to alleviate their concerns given the agency’s independent status. Graham suggested that Obama defend Boeing’s reputation by pointing out that White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley once served on the company’s board and that Boeing CEO Jim McNerney served as chairman of the President’s export council. Haley, however, was less clear.
“To even bring up an independent agency and say that’s a disclaimer is a cop out,” she told reporters. “What we are asking the president to do is lead the people of this country, because all he is doing right now is he is creating best friends with every other country in the world. They are loving him right now because he is forcing business to go out of our country and he is keeping business from coming in.”
But at least one speaker suggested total White House control over the labor board: Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) told reporters that the NLRB suit was evidence of an “enemies list” created by Obama to target Republican states as part of a political payback scheme.