Republicans and Democrats jockeyed Thursday over plans for a congressional hearing in South Carolina on the National Labor Relations Board's suit against Boeing Co.
The board sued the Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer in April, saying Boeing broke the law when it built a non-union passenger jet assembly line in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, instead of Washington state. Most 787s there are assembled by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
The NLRB says that decision was made to retaliate against unionized Washington state workers, and an administrative judge in Seattle began considering the case this week. Boeing has challenged the labor board complaint, saying no work was removed or transferred from Washington and that no union member lost a job.
The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is scheduled to hold a special hearing on the issue Friday in North Charleston. But two top Democrats called on Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., either to delay the hearing entirely while the lawsuit moves forward or at least to direct committee members not to ask NLRB general counsel Lafe Solomon about the litigation.
"You have every intention at the upcoming hearing of pressing the very kinds of questions that put the due process rights of private parties in jeopardy," U.S. Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and George Miller, D-Calif., wrote. "You seem to believe that, even if your conduct amounts to improper interference with constitutional rights, that should not be the Committee's concern and instead should be left to the parties to litigate later."
Solomon initially turned down Issa's invitation to testify, later acquiescing after the threat of a subpoena.
A spokesman for Issa's committee said Thursday the hearing would go on as planned and that it would be up to any witnesses to refuse to answer questions if they choose.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, meanwhile, praised members of South Carolina's congressional delegation Thursday, saying they have been helpful in showing President Barack Obama that the state is serious about protecting its employers.
"What we're doing is showing that this doesn't just affect us on the state level, but the federal delegation will step up as well and make sure that our voices are heard loud and clear from South Carolina that this bullying has got to stop, and that we're not going to allow them to attack Boeing the way they have," Haley said.
Haley, who has made no secret of her opposition to unions, is also a defendant in a federal lawsuit by the machinists and the AFL-CIO.
They want Haley and state labor department head Catherine Templeton ordered to remain neutral in union matters. When Haley nominated Templeton last December, she said her background would be helpful in state fights against unions, particularly at the new $750 million Boeing plant, the largest single industrial investment in state history.
U.S. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a longtime union critic who sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the NLRB seeking documents including communications with senior union officials, spoke out Wednesday about the dispute. He noted that Boeing has actually added union jobs since the South Carolina plant's inception.
"This administration should be celebrating Boeing. Since Boeing decided to build a new plant in South Carolina, they've added 2,000 union jobs in Washington state and more than 1,000 jobs in South Carolina," DeMint said on CBS' "The Early Show."
Haley said Thursday she will continue to try to press the administration to step in and halt the lawsuit.
"The only thing that can right this wrong is for the president to tell the NLRB to back off," Haley said. "And until that happens, it is my job to be loud and annoying and in his face until he realizes that what they have done is wrong, and he did it to one of our own American companies, and this has got to stop."
Also Thursday, Boeing announced it would serve as a local sponsor of the newly renamed RBC-Heritage Classic golf tournament through 2016, further ensconcing the company as a corporate presence in South Carolina.
Kinnard can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.