On Boeing, Defending NLRB’s ‘Process’ Fails as Serious Argument

Few Democratic members of Congress have spoken up on the National Labor Relations Board’s unprecedented and extreme complaint against The Boeing Company for making a reasonable, legitimate management decision by building new production facilities in South Carolina. It’s a tough decision to defend, so those commenting have relied on a “process” argument — let the process work.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hailed the NLRB as an example of the “checks and balances” envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) levied accusations, claiming, “Powerful corporate interests are pressuring Members of this body to interfere with an independent agency rather than letting it run its course.”

On Thursday, it was Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s turn to come to the Senate floor to defend the NLRB. The Connecticut Democrat made the most coherent, seriously framed argument based on process we’ve seen: “The NLRB and Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel, have not only the right but the responsibility to investigate and act where the facts and the law establish a right and obligation to do so. So no one should be trying to prejudge this case before it goes before the administrative judge, and no one should be seeking a pass from the appropriate process, and no one should be seeking to intimidate or to interfere with this lawful proceeding. I come to the floor today because of the prospect of exactly that danger  occurring.”

Yet one specific example Blumenthal cites is the decision by Chairman Darrel Issa (R-CA) of the House Oversight Committee to request documents on the Boeing complaint from the NLRB. But that’s the only example. Otherwise, the Senator seems to objecting to other elected officials publicly criticizing a federal agency.

These actions and some others are an attack on the integrity of the NLRB, an attack on its ability to make decisions and enforce the law as the Congress has instructed it and required it to do based on decisions involving the facts and the law alone. The NLRB is part of our justice system, and it should be given the opportunity to do justice in this instance. It should be given the opportunity to protect fairness and peace at the workplace, which is ultimately its mandate and its very solemn responsibility, and its tradition.

The NLRB is part of our justice system? Really? It does not behave that way. You have the NLRB’s public affairs office issuing press releases announcing the agency’s rulings against business and posting “Fact Checks” that are just political spin. Lafe Solomon commented publicly on the case, restating Boeing’s supposed offenses, before he retreated behind the protection of “let the process work.”

The agency is behaving as a political actor, and the complaint against Boeing is so at odds with the board’s mandate, solemn responsibility and tradition — to use Blumenthal’s terms — that silence would be an abdication of Congress’ oversight and policymaking responsibilities. If the NLRB’s complaint stands, the federal government will replace management in determining company locations and hiring. Such a radical restructuring of the U.S. economy and such an extreme expansion of federal power is at heart a policy matter, which in our system of government is the purview of Congress.

When an agency runs amok like the NLRB has done, it has abandoned process. That’s why the process arguments made by its defenders are just beside the point.

Leave a Reply