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Labor agency abandons case against Boeing

By James Oliphant, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The National Labor Relations Board dropped a much-criticized action against Boeing Co., a move praised by Republicans as overdue but one that deprives the GOP of a line of attack against the Obama administration in the 2012 campaign.

Republican presidential contenders and business groups had seized upon the Boeing controversy as part of an effort to pin the sluggish economy on the president, contending that the NLRB’s complaint could cost South Carolina hard-won manufacturing jobs.

The NLRB filed a complaint against Boeing in March, alleging the aerospace company decided to put a nonunion production line in Charleston, S.C., in retaliation against union workers in Washington state for past strikes.

The machinists union entered into a new four-year contract extension with Boeing earlier this week and, as part of the deal, agreed to withdraw its unfair labor practices charge against the company. That led the NLRB to announce Friday it had dropped the case.

“I am very happy to announce that my office has approved the withdrawal of a charge by the machinists union against the Boeing Co., which brings our case in this matter to an end,” Lafe Solomon, NLRB acting general counsel, said in a statement.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president played no role in persuading the labor board to abandon the case.

“The NLRB is an independent board. And as he has said previously, the president thinks labor and management should find ways to work together to preserve and create jobs, and … he is glad they have reached a resolution here,” Carney said. “But this was not something the president was involved in.”

Asked about the case while walking outside the White House on Friday, the president said he was “glad people are gonna be working.”

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in a statement said he welcomed the decision but accused the Obama administration of allowing unions to set labor policy.

“While it is good news for the people of South Carolina, it does little for workers and businesses around the country who depend on a fair and impartial U.S. government,” said Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts.

GOP candidate Jon Huntsman also weighed in: “The NLRB decision is a victory in a battle that should have never been fought,” Huntsman said. “Their action against Boeing in South Carolina was an unprecedented attempt to interfere in the free market, and an attempt to politicize companies’ decisions as how and where they create jobs.”

Boeing had argued its decision to locate a facility in Charleston, S.C., to help build the 787 Dreamliner passenger jet was purely a business move, not an act of retaliation, and maintained it would not take away jobs from workers in Washington state. As part of the new deal with the machinists union, Boeing agreed to build a new fleet of 737 jets in the Seattle area.

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©2011 Tribune Co.

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