Obama Breaks Silence About Boeing v. NLRB Labor Dispute

Jun 29, 2011 2:29pm

ABC News' Amy Bingham reports:

President Obama broke his silence today about the dispute between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board over a proposed plant in South Carolina.

The move by the NLRB to block Boeing's plan to move a plant to the Southern state has incited a wave of indignation from Republicans and the business community.

The President today put distance between his administration and the labor board stressing  that it is “an independent agency.”

“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,” Obama said at a Wednesday’s White House press conference. 

The NLRB is suing Boeing for allegedly moving part of the production of its 787 Dreamliner jet from Washington, a unionized state, to South Carolina, a right to work state, to retaliate against Washington workers for going on strike.

“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,” Obama said. “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 obviously, the air — airplane industry is an area where we still have a huge advantage.  I want to make sure that we keep it,” the president added.

Nearly every Republican presidential candidate has spoken out against the case. The pro-business  Workforce Fairness Institute called on each candidate to make their opposition to “the NLRB’s job-killing actions” a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Former South Carolina Gov. Tim Pawlenty said it was “preposterous” and “outrageous.”  Herman Cain, the former head of Godfather’s Pizza, said the Boeing case was "completely unacceptable … political games."

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich went even farther and called on Congress to defund the entire labor board because it was a “real threat” to right-to-work states, a call echoed by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.

"We could eliminate the NLRB or take the premise and statutorily change it," Issa, R-Calif., said during a hearing he called to investigate the case.

The oversight committee released a “Voices of Recovery” video Tuesday showing an interview with a South Carolina businessman whose company would suffer if Boeing left the state. According the committee’s press release, the businessman “put a face on the far-reaching consequences” of the lawsuit.

In an interview with the Associated Press Tuesday former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the NLRB, which is appointed by the president, was "stacked with labor stooges.” Romney went on to attack the president saying that if Boeing loses the NLRB case and has to close its South Carolina plant, it could eliminate some of the same jobs Obama was promoting on his recent trip to Alcoa, a manufacturing plant in Iowa.

"This Boeing decision in South Carolina sent shockwaves across the nation and, if allowed to stand, will result in American job losses and I think you can be sure there will be some losses in Iowa as well as other states," Romney said Tuesday in an Associated Press interview.

Obama praised job-creation at the Alcoa plant again during Wednesday’s press conference.

“They still invested $90 million in new equipment in a plant that makes airplane wings and parts for automobiles, and they've bounced back. They've hired back all their people,” he said.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann took a stab at the Boeing case Tuesday in her first visit to South Carolina as a presidential candidate.

“Wouldn’t you think bringing Boeing to South Carolina would make a lot of sense?” she said to cheers from the crowd. “We think so too.”

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