Thursday, June 30, 2011

Obama Hints Boeing, Union Should Settle Their Differences

After weeks of silence on the NLRB-Boeing fight, President Barack Obama strongly hinted that Boeing Co. and its union in Washington state should settle their differences for the sake of jobs and corporate investment.

Boeing plans to build the 787 Dreamliner, shown above in Washington state in March, at a non-union plant.

When asked about it at his Wednesday press conference, Mr. Obama first repeated much of what his aides have been saying for weeks. “Essentially, the NLRB made a — a finding that Boeing had not followed the law” when deciding where to locate its second 787 Dreamliner production line, Mr. Obama said. “It’s an independent agency. It’s going before a judge. So I don’t want to get into the details of the case. I don’t know all the facts,” he added.

But he didn’t stop there.

Offering an insight into his view on corporate relocations and the related management-labor disputes, he said: “As a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate – they have to follow the law, but that’s part of our system. And if they’re choosing to relocate here in the United States, that’s a good thing. What I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor and management can’t come to a sensible agreement.”

And he wrapped up his answer with a pitch for keeping jobs in the U.S. “My hope is that even as this thing is working its way through, everybody steps back for a second and says: Look, if jobs are being created here in the United States, let’s make sure that we’re encouraging that. And we can’t afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we’re competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to sell goods all around the world. And obviously, the air — airplane industry is an area where we still have a huge advantage. I want to make sure that we keep it.”

Regarding Mr. Obama’s hint that he’d prefer to see a settlement between Boeing and the union, a White House official said, “Just as the White House had no role in the NLRB’s independent enforcement action, the president was not weighing in on this specific case.”

Quick recap: The NLRB filed a complaint in April alleging Boeing illegally shifted unionized aircraft production work from Washington state to a new, nonunion plant in South Carolina, siding with union members who said Boeing was punishing them for past strikes. NLRB Acting General Counsel Lafe Solomon wants Boeing to move the work back to Washington state. Boeing says the charges are groundless. And an NLRB administrative law judge began hearing the case June 14.

In his remarks Wednesday, Mr. Obama avoided picking sides, irritating some who think he should denounce the NLRB.

A spokesman for the conservative Workforce Fairness Institute said Mr. Obama “pled ignorance about the job-killing policies being pursued by his regulatory agencies, while claiming to be concerned with turning the economy around and creating jobs.”

Glenn Spencer, an executive director at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said, “The president couldn’t be more right that creating jobs ought to be the focus. Unfortunately, it is his nominee [Lafe Solomon] that has created the distraction by filing the unwarranted complaint against Boeing.’’

Spokesmen at Boeing and the International Association of Machinists said they are open to settling the case, but each blamed the other for offering settlement proposals that weren’t serious.

A Boeing spokesman said the company had nothing to add to its previous comments. The union’s settlement proposal to the company in May “went well beyond what we would consider reasonable as it sought various production guarantees, including a commitment by the company to place our next new program and its related supply chain work in Puget Sound” area of Washington, the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for the International Association of Machinists union said, “The Machinists have been open and have encouraged that [a settlement] all along as well, but Boeing broke the law and needs to be bringing forth settlements. To date, they have been unwilling to bring any serious proposals forward or willing to enter into serious dialogue on it.”

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