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Issa and NLRB Continue Duel, as Boeing CEO Threatens to Shift More Production

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mike elkWASHINGTON, D.C.—Earlier this month, House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) threatened National Labor Relations Board General Counsel Lafe Solomon with a subpoena if he did not hand over key internal deliberative documents relating to the Boeing case by 5 p.m. on Tuesday July 26.

Solomon hasn’t complied. On July 26, he wrote to Issa asking him to reconsider his document request, saying “I respectfully ask that you reconsider our request to apply your June 17 ruling at the South Carolina hearing to our production of documents, which would allow the Committee to have access to requested information as soon as it becomes available to the parties and the administrative law judge at the hearing. “

Solomon’s reason for not handing over the documents was that “disclosure of documents and information not available to both Boeing and the Machinists could result in an unfair advantage to one party over another and risk harm to the integrity of the Agency’s legal process.” He said Issa’s document request flies in the face of Issa’s previous ground rules for Solomon’s testimony at a June 17 hearing held in South Carolina.

You ruled that “[a]ny time which is not discoverable by the defendant, will be considered out of bounds for any question.” In other words, you concluded that it would be inappropriate for Committee members to ask me to provide information not yet available to Boeing.

In justifying his decision not to hand over documents, Solomon cited a legal ruling handed down in the case by the judge in the Boeing case, Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson, denying the requests made by Boeing for the identical documents.

If the NLRB General Counsel’s office refuses to hand over documents after they are subpoenaed, Issa could then move to charge Solomon with contempt of Congress. Solomon would become the first Obama administration official charged with contempt of Congress—creating a political headache for the Obama Administration. Issa’s office did not respond to requests for comment despite numerous requests.

In another interesting twist to the case, while Boeing has demanded a large amount of documents from both union and NLRB officials, the company is not willing to let the public know about documents related to the tax incentives it is receiving from South Carolina where union work from Washington state was moved. Likewise, Boeing is refusing to disclose some of the details related to “Project Olympus” – a 2003 deal with the State of Washington that was thought to ensure the 787 aircraft would be built there.

Among some of the documents that IAM Local 751 Spokeswoman Connie Kelliher says Boeing won’t release are studies comparing the cost of leaving 787 production in Washington State and studies showing what it would cost Boeing to shut down a third temporary assembly line in Washington.

Despite the fact that details of the tax deals from Washington state would help legally establish Boeing commitment’s to expand in Washington State, Boeing has asked that the NLRB clear the courtroom anytime these documents are discussed.

“We suspect the documents Boeing wants to keep secret prove that Boeing executives didn’t make a legitimate business decision to transfer work from Everett to Charleston, but instead broke the law by moving because of union activity here,” Kelliher said in a press release. “It doesn’t surprise us that Boeing would want to keep any incriminating documents secret, but our laws don’t permit secret tribunals.”

A hearing is scheduled on Boeing’s motion to keep documents from the public today in Seattle. The scene is expected to be tense, as yesterday Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney shocked the aerospace world when he announced on a conference call that 737 jet production intended for Renton, Wash., may go elsewhere.

“It just sounds like they are basically threatening to abandon Puget Sound,” said IAM Local 751 Spokesman Bryan Corliss. The production was widely expected to go to Washington state

Tensions are quickly rising, with Congress threatening to subpoena the NLRB and Boeing considering moving even more production away from the unionized workforce in Washington. The push by Boeing and its Republican allies in Congress against NLRB and the union could have a huge effect not just on labor law, but on the role of the NLRB in enforcing labor law for generations to come.

This article originally appeared on the Working In These Times blog on July 28, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Elk is a third-generation union organizer who has worked for the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers, the Campaign for America’s Future, and the Obama-Biden campaign. Based in Washington D.C., he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, and NPR, and writes frequently for In These Times as well as Alternet, The Nation, The Atlantic and The American Prospect.

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What Anita Hill did for America

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Marcia GreenbergerThis week Virginia Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, called Anita Hill and left a message on her answering machine inviting her to apologize for testifying during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings.

The call brought back, with surprising immediacy, those 1991 hearings. For those too young to remember, the hearings may be little more than a paragraph in a history text. But it’s hard to overstate their importance.

For women at the time, Professor Hill’s testimony was riveting and unforgettable. The country watched on TV as Hill related her personal story — describing the sexual harassment she said she endured while working for Thomas as a federal government employee — before a Judiciary Committee composed entirely of men. Not a single woman senator. (Thomas denied the allegations.)

The issue of sexual harassment was out of the shadows.

Before Hill’s testimony, sexual harassment was viewed as a problem for victims, predominantly women, to solve on their own. Most women suffered in silence rather than jeopardize their careers by complaining, even though sexual harassment had been defined as a form of sex discrimination that could be illegal more than a decade earlier by the courts and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (or EEOC).

When it first appeared that Professor Hill’s allegations might not even be aired, outraged women jammed congressional switchboards with phone calls, and seven women members of the House of Representatives, including Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Louise Slaughter and then-Rep. Barbara Boxer (who was elected to the Senate the following year) marched to the Senate to demand a serious and respectful hearing.

Professor Hill was berated and personally attacked during the hearing. Former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson waited until Anita Hill’s testimony was concluded to announce, for example, that “I really am getting stuff over the transom about Professor Hill,” without providing any details or substantiation about what he was referring to.

Such treatment became the subject of dinner table conversations around the country, as did the problem of sexual harassment itself. And those conversations continued wherever women met.

Pundits speculated that the Anita Hill testimony would forever intimidate women from ever coming forward again, but the opposite happened.

After the hearings, the number of claims of sexual harassment filed with the federal EEOC (the very agency headed by Clarence Thomas where Anita Hill said he had sexually harassed her) more than doubled between 1991 and 1998 (from 6,883 to 15,618).

And women demanded better legal protection. Congress strengthened remedies for victims of sexual harassment at work by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1991, providing damages for the full range of injuries that victims might suffer and giving victims the right to trial by a jury of her peers.

Major victories in the courts struck blows against widespread sexual harassment that women suffered in the workplace, from the mines to Wall Street. Employers took notice, so that now anti-harassment policies are more robust and company training programs are commonplace.

In the aftermath of Anita Hill’s testimony, Justice Thomas was narrowly confirmed to the Supreme Court by a vote of 52 to 48. In what became known as “the Year of the Woman,” record numbers of women were elected to Congress: 28 women were elected to the House of Representatives, more than doubling the total number of female representatives to 47, and four new women joined the only two women then serving in the Senate.

One of those new female senators from the class of 1992, Dianne Feinstein of California, now sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anita Hill dedicated her career to combating discrimination, including sexual harassment, and opening equal opportunity to all in the workplace and beyond.

The voicemail message from Justice Thomas’s wife is a reminder of a moment in time that put a spotlight on sexual harassment. But our country still needs more discussion about the serious harm it causes.

Sexual harassment has certainly not gone away.

The National Women’s Law Center, for example, recently filed an amicus brief in a lawsuit where a female electrical maintenance technician in a male-dominated workplace says she was constantly harassed — with supervisors and co-workers routinely referring to women with demeaning and derogatory words, displaying provocative photos of naked and partially clothed women in common areas throughout the workplace (and not responding to her repeated requests that the photos be taken down), and excluding her from key daily meetings.

Whether bullying and harassment in schools or making women’s lives miserable in the workplace, it’s time to make sure our laws are strong enough, our institutions committed enough, and our public debate serious enough to give women and girls the protections they need and deserve.

There’s still work to be done. For example, Congress needs to eliminate arbitrary limits on damages for sexual harassment victims and to change current legal standards that make it more difficult for students to prove sexual harassment than other claims of discrimination in schools.

Any less not only does an injustice to women and girls, but to our country as well, which needs the talents and skills of us all to thrive.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Marcia Greenberger.

This article was originally posted on CNN.

About The Author: Marcia D. Greenberger is Co-President, and co-founder, of the National Women’s Law Center, which since 1972 has been involved in virtually every major effort to secure and defend women’s rights. She testified at the Senate hearings against the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court based on his record, before the information concerning Anita Hill became public. Anita Hill currently serves as a board member of the National Women’s Law Center.

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Insurance companies go before Kucinich panel

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In a room filled almost to capacity with K street lobbyists and company lawyers, executives from the nation’s top six insurance providers testified before the Domestic Policy subcommittee during day two of the subcommittee’s hearings. While yesterday committee members heard from victims of insurance companies and industry whistleblowers who shared their disheartening stories of industry abuse, today brought a much different tone.

The witness list included executives from United Healthcare Group, WellPoint, Aetna, Humana, CIGNA and Health Care Service Corporation. They repeatedly expressed their support for health care reform, but when questioned about specific industry practices or guidelines, they tirelessly dodged the issue. Whether the committee members asked about rescission policies or executive salaries, the witnesses seemed reluctant to provide anything beyond vague generalities extolling the virtues of their industry.

However, it seemed that many of the committee members took yesterday’s testimony to heart. Following up on Dr. Linda Peeno’s statement from yesterday that her salary was directly related to how many claims she denied, Representative Cummings asked all the witnesses if there was any reward at their company for doing likewise. Frustrated by the complete denial of such practices by all executives, Rep. Cummings said “Well, I guess there must be those other insurance companies out there doing this.”

Rep. Conyers also dropped in on the hearings, even though he is not a member of the subcommittee. He took a slightly different line of questioning, asking the witnesses if they were aware of a wide variety of insurance-related facts, such as the existence of the organization Healthcare for America NOW. None of the witnesses said they had ever heard of it.

Overall, the hearings posed several tense moments between the Democratic representatives and witnesses. At one point, Rep. Conyers asked Patricia Farrell, the Aetna representative, how much she made per year. She refused to disclose the amount to the committee, offering instead to submit it in written form after the hearing. All of the other witnesses, except the Humana and Health Care Services Corporation executives, refused as well.

While it is unclear exactly how much light today’s hearing shed on the internal practices and operations of the insurance companies, the committee members did request large amounts of additional information from the witnesses, including tapes of internal meetings discussing raising profits and compensation listings for their top executives. Rep. Kucinich closed the hearing by noting that this is just the beginning of an ongoing process to learn exactly how the insurance companies operate and how they can be reformed to better served the American people.

About the Author: Maria Tchijov is an online organizer & new media specialist in healthcare on SEIU’s New Media team. SEIU is the nation’s largest union of health care workers, with over half of the union’s 2.1 million members working in the field, including 110,000 nurses and 40,000 doctors.

This article originally appeared in the SEIU blog on September 17, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

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