Labor Board Case Against Boeing Points to Fights to Come

April 23, 2011


For businesses, it was the type of action they have feared from a National Labor Relations Board dominated by Democrats. For labor unions, it was the type of action they have hoped for. And for both, it may be a sign of things to come.

These fears and hopes were stirred this week when the labor board’s top lawyer filed a case against Boeing, seeking to force it to move airplane production from a nonunion plant in South Carolina to a unionized one in Washington State. Boeing executives had publicly said they were making the move to avoid the kind of strikes the airplane maker had repeatedly faced in Washington; Lafe Solomon, the labor board’s acting general counsel, said the company’s motive constituted illegal retaliation against workers for exercising their right to strike.

The agency’s unusually bold action angered business groups and some politicians, who said it was an unwarranted attempt by the government to interfere with a fundamental corporate decision.

But under President Obama’s appointees, the agency, including Mr. Solomon and his staff, has sought to reinterpret and more vigorously enforce the rules governing employers and employees, from what workers can say about their bosses on Twitter to the use of Internet and phone voting in union elections.

How much ultimately changes will depend in large part on the decisions made by the five-member board, led by Wilma Liebman, that sits atop the agency. That panel hears cases brought by the board’s regional offices — overseen by Mr. Solomon — after employers, workers or unions file complaints.

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