Boeing Complaint Dropped By Labor Board, Ending Eight-Month Drama

WASHINGTON -- Bringing a months-long saga to a close, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) announced Friday that it has withdrawn a controversial complaint it filed against the Boeing Company earlier this year that Republicans used to hammer President Obama and Democrats repeatedly over jobs and federal regulations.

"This is the outcome that we always preferred," said Lafe Solomon, acting general counsel of the NLRB, which officiates labor disputes between workers and employers. "I think it's the best resolution possible."

In April, Solomon filed a complaint on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers alleging that Boeing broke labor law when it tried to establish a production line for its 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina. Solomon said the move to South Carolina was retaliation against Boeing's unionized employees in Washington State for having gone on strike in the past. If the parties couldn't settle, Boeing feasibly could have been forced to take the production line to back Washington.

Republicans, particularly those in South Carolina, vilified Solomon and the labor board in general for the complaint, arguing that they were taking jobs out of South Carolina at the benefit of Democrat-friendly labor unions. The GOP has used the issue as a cudgel to bash President Obama, who appointed Solomon, over job issues. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) threatened to defund the board, which he said carried an "agenda" that was bad for America, and GOP lawmakers advanced several measures aimed to neuter the board.

Solomon and others have said from the beginning that there was nothing spectacular about the Boeing complaint and that such cases are usually settled. During a call with reporters, Solomon stood by the complaint.

"This was never about the union or the NLRB telling Boeing where they could put their plants," he said. "This was a question of retaliation. If we were ever faced with a similar pattern we might well issue a complaint."

A settlement in the Boeing case started to look increasingly likely last week, when the machinists' union announced that they'd reached a four-year extension on their contract with the company. The contract stipulates that Boeing will build its 737 MAX passenger jet in Washington. With jobs secured for the Boeing workers there, the agreement paves the way for Boeing to move forward with its production line for the 787 Dreamliner in South Carolina, an arrangement that Solomon described as beneficial to everyone.

The board withdrew its complaint against Boeing Friday morning at the request of the machinists' union, which said it was satisfied with the contract.

The Boeing controversy has brought a surprising amount of attention to an agency that's rarely in the public view. It's unlikely Solomon ever imagined to see his name so frequently in the news, and on Friday he seemed somewhat relieved that at least one drama had come to a close.

Asked how unprecedented the recent months have been for the labor board, Solomon laughed, saying, "As for the last eight months, they've certainly been unprecedented in my life."