US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Statement of Senator Tom Harkin on Boeing Settlement

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

WASHINGTON - Today, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, spoke on the floor of the Senate in response to news of a settlement between Boeing and the International Association of Machinists.

Below are his full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

"I rise today to congratulate the President of the Machinists Union, Tom Buffenbarger, and Boeing’s CEO, Jim McNerney, on their agreement today to extend their current contract for four years.  It’s a good deal.  It reflects a strong and commendable commitment by Boeing to continue having their top quality products made by top quality workers.  It provides real job security and fair treatment for the company’s valued employees.  It will also resolve the current labor dispute between the company and the union that is pending before the NLRB.  This settlement is a step forward for the company, a step forward for its workers, and a step forward for our nation.  
"This agreement is also a compelling illustration of the fact that the NLRB process works. When alleged unlawful activity happens, a charge is filed with the NLRB.  That’s what is supposed to happen.  And while the NLRB’s process was playing out, the parties were able to sit down, negotiate and strike a deal.  As a matter of fact, that’s what happens with most unfair labor practice charges filed at the NLRB.  It’s all part of the process at that independent agency.  Just like in the court system, cases settle to the benefit of both parties.  That’s what happened here.  
"What should not have happened was the unprecedented level of Congressional interference in this case.  It wasn’t just that Republican elected officials tried to try this case in the press – they went far beyond that.  House Republicans tried to eliminate the Board’s funding entirely.  Senate Republicans have blocked nominees for the Board and its General Counsel.  House Republicans tried to subpoena the prosecutor’s case file so that they obtain documents that the company had been unable to obtain in the litigation.  A member of this body called the acting NLRB general counsel, Lafe Solomon  – an independent prosecutor and a 30 year career veteran of the agency – and threatened to come after Mr. Solomon “guns ablazing” if he brought charges against Boeing.  I’m told that the House Oversight Committee actually threatened to try to revoke the bar licenses of individual career attorneys at the Board.
"I have never, in all my years in public office seen such unprecedented interference with the business of an independent agency, and I hope to never see it again.  The time and attention that House Republicans have devoted to their attack campaign against the NLRB is nothing short of astonishing.  What’s even more absurd is the fact that they claim that this attack campaign was intended to save jobs.  
"I am mystified by the suggestion that gutting the NLRB would somehow revive our economy.   In survey after survey, business leaders agree about what’s hurting our economy -- it’s not government, it’s not regulation, and it’s not the NLRB.  It’s lack of consumer demand.  Workers do not have enough money in their paychecks to buy things, and the economy won’t pick up until they do.  Weakening workers’ rights and taking away their ability to speak up for fair treatment will only make this problem worse.
"Attacking American workers and the agency that protects them is a poor substitute for a real job creation strategy.  Americans know that National Labor Relations Board is not responsible for our country’s economic woes.  Incapacitating this agency will not put food on people’s tables, help them keep their homes, find jobs, or send their kids to college.  It will, however, send a strong message to those few, unscrupulous employers who want to take advantage of this bad economy to mistreat hardworking people – without the NLRB there is no watchdog, so it’s open season on workers’ rights.  At a time when decent jobs with good wages and fair treatment are getting harder and harder to find, this would be a step in the wrong direction for our country.
"The National Labor Relations Board is an independent federal agency charged with an important mission.  In fulfilling that mission, the hardworking people at the Board are just doing their jobs.  Now it’s time for the Republican party to do the same.  Instead of continuing to pursue this pointless and distracting political crusade, it’s time for the Republicans to get down to the hard work of rebuilding the middle class, and moving America forward."

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