Imagine if Republicans in Congress threatened to defund the Supreme Court because they didn’t like one of its decisions. Well, that’s almost what's happening right now, as Republicans in Congress threaten to defund the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), a quasi-judicial independent body tasked with prosecuting and enforcing labor law.
The whole controversy started when Boeing decided to not open a planned production line at a union facility in Puget Sound after workers went on strike in 2008. In 2007, Boeing announced it would create a second production line to produce three 787 Dreamliner planes a month in the Puget Sound, in addition to the production that was already occurring in Puget Sound. Then in October 2009, it was announced the company would move the second production line to a nonunion plant in South Carolina. Later, a Boeing official told the Seattle Times that Boeing moved the plant because of the strike and the union presence in Puget Sound.
Last month, NLRB General Counsel Lafe Solomon ruled that the decision to move production to a nonunion facility after a strike violates the ability to strike and collectively bargain enshrined in the National Labor Relations Act. This ruling stands in precedent with a long history of legal cases showing that threatening to move facilities if workers strike is illegal under the National Labor Relations Act (for more information on this precedent, see this factsheet released by the Board).
The NLRB is now seeking an order that would require Boeing to maintain the second production line in the unionized Puget Sound facility. If a settlement is not reached, the next step in the process will be a hearing before an NLRB administrative law judge in Seattle on June 14.
Republicans were quick to denounce the NLRB ruling in very heated language. Senator Jim Demint (R-S.C.) speaking on the floor of the Senate, said “The administration, I believe, is acting like thugs that you might see in a third-world country, trying to bully and intimidate employers.”
This week Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) actually put forward legislation to defund the complaint filed against Boeing. How exactly Congress could defund one complaint of the National Labor Relations Board is unclear. But it is clear that the NLRB has always been a fully independent quasi-judicial body; threatening to defund the NLRB over holding a hearing on one case is like Republicans in Congress threatening to defund one Supreme Court hearing. It is a threat meant to intimidate the NLRB, whose budget has been under attack in the past, as I wrote about for Working In These Times earlier this year.
As the Republican presidential primary season heats up, expect to hear more attacks on the National Labor Relations Board coming from Republican candidates. South Carolina has the first Southern Presidential Primary in the nation. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-S.C.) said where Republicans stand on the Boeing case and the NLRB will be a litmus test for GOP presidential contenders seeking her endorsement.
“Every presidential candidate needs to weigh in on what is happening with NLRB and Boeing,” she says. “I would expect the presidential candidates to speak up, to say that this is wrong, and also to go further than that: to say what they would do to make it right.”
With statements like that, people in the labor movement are expecting continuing attacks on the quasi-judicial NLRB—attacks that attempts to block the NLRB from prosecuting labor rights violations in the future.