Obama declines to criticize NLRB for Boeing ruling but says companies should be free to relocate factories within the U.S.
President Obama said Wednesday that companies should be free to relocate factories anywhere in the country as long as they follow the law. But he declined to criticize a recent National Labor Relations Board ruling that alleged Boeing Co. opened a non-union assembly plant in South Carolina in retaliation for union strikes at its facilities in Washington state.
Weighing in for the first time on the controversial issue, Obama said he didn't know all the facts in the NLRB case and did not want to comment because it is the subject of an ongoing court case.
But Obama said "as a general proposition, companies need to have the freedom to relocate." He also said the government did not want to take actions that might encourage companies to move factories abroad and that management and labor risked U.S. jobs if they could not resolve their differences.
"What I think defies common sense would be a notion that we would be shutting down a plant or laying off workers because labor and management can't come to a sensible agreement," Obama said at a White House news conference.
"So my hope is, is that even as this thing is working its way through, everybody steps back for a second and says, 'Look, if jobs are being created here in the United States, let's make sure that
we're encouraging that,' " Obama continued, noting the leading role the nation plays in the aircraft industry. "And we can't afford to have labor and management fighting all the time, at a time when we're competing against Germany and China and other countries that want to sell goods all around the world."
The NLRB ruling has been slammed by business groups and many Republicans as inappropriate government involvement in the decisions of a private company. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has threatened to block the nomination of John Bryson to be Commerce secretary unless Obama spoke out against the ruling.
Bryson, the former chief executive of Edison International, was a longtime Boeing board member before stepping down this month because of his nomination. At his confirmation hearing last week, Bryson said he did not agree with the NLRB ruling and that the Boeing board thought it was making the correct decision to open a new assembly plant for the Boeing 787 airliner in North Charleston, S.C.
South Carolina is a right-to-work state that does not allow union membership to be a condition for employment.
"We thought we were doing the right thing for the country and we looked hard at maintaining the jobs in Washington and expanding the jobs elsewhere for the benefit of the country and never thought, for example, of putting those jobs outside the U.S.," Bryson told the Senate Commerce Committee.
-- Jim Puzzanghera
Photo: President Obama speaks during a White House news conference Wednesday. Credit: Getty Images.