April 20, 2021

House Approves Bill Restricting N.L.R.B.

Republicans denounced the labor board’s case against Boeing, asserting that the board is overreaching its authority and should not be trying to tell companies where they can locate their operations. But many Democrats and their union allies condemned the legislation, asserting that the bill undercuts an independent federal agency and favors Boeing, a potent lobbying force and prominent political donor.

Under the bill, an unusual effort to halt a federal agency’s actions in a pending case, the labor board would be barred from seeking to have an employer shut, transfer or relocate employment or operations “under any circumstances.”

The bill, called “The Protecting Jobs from Government Interference Act,” is expected to face an uphill battle in the Democratic-led Senate. In the House vote on Thursday, the partisan divide was clear: only 8 Democrats voted for the bill and only 7 Republicans voted against it.

Republicans have repeatedly criticized the complaint that the board’s acting general counsel filed against Boeing last April, which accused the company of building an assembly line in North Charleston, S.C., as a form of retaliation against unionized Boeing employees in Washington State who had engaged in five strikes since 1977, including a 58-day-walkout in 2008. The National Labor Relations Act prohibits companies from taking any actions, whether firing employees or relocating a factory, against workers for exercising federally protected rights that include forming a union or going on strike.

Republicans asserted that the N.L.R.B.’s move was causing some foreign companies to think twice about opening operations in the United States, while Democrats maintained that the bill would speed the exodus of American jobs overseas.

Representative John Kline, a Minnesota Republican who is chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said: “This legislation represents an important step in the fight to get our jobs back on track. It tells job creators they don’t have to worry about an activist N.L.R.B. telling them where they can locate their business.”

But Representative Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat, said the bill “would be devastating to workers across this country.”

“It makes it easier to shift jobs overseas,” he said. “It eliminates the only remedy to force companies to bring back work from overseas. This ‘Outsourcers’ Bill of Rights’ is not only bad for the interests of workers, it’s bad for the economy at large.”

The board’s critics say the Boeing case favors heavily unionized states over right-to-work states and unionized workers over nonunion workers. Critics often blame President Obama, noting that it was brought by an official he appointed.

The Boeing case is pending before an administrative law judge, who is to decide whether to order Boeing to move the South Carolina production line, which assembles 787 Dreamliners, to Washington State. The House bill has a retroactivity clause that would bar the labor board from seeking an order to have Boeing transfer the assembly line to Washington State.

Republicans argued that the bill would only remove one remedy of the dozen in the N.L.R.B.’s arsenal. They say that the board can pursue other actions, among them ordering the company to post a notice saying it has acted illegally or to pay back pay. The opening of the assembly line in South Carolina has not caused any layoffs of Boeing workers in Washington State, but it might soon layoff more than 1,000 there as the new plant gets up to speed.

The labor board’s acting general counsel, Lafe Solomon, issued a statement on Wednesday saying his decision to file a complaint against Boeing “was based on a careful investigation and a review of the facts under longstanding federal labor law.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3c630fe7719058124b99ca6d32592ea9

New Camry, Spruced Up but Still Free of Flash

DEARBORN, Mich. — Toyota unveiled a revamped, lower-priced Camry on Tuesday that it hopes will retain its nearly decade-long dominance as the best-selling car in the United States and help the company regain some of the respect and momentum that has evaporated in recent years.

So important is the new Camry to Toyota’s recovery that the company’s president, Akio Toyoda, traveled to Kentucky so he could drive the first completed car off the assembly line and proclaim “100 percent confidence” in the work of his designers and engineers.

“You might say that this is an opportunity to show the world again what Toyota is all about,” Mr. Toyoda said. He called the Camry, which accounted for 22 percent of Toyota’s sales in the United States last year, “a symbol of Toyota’s success.” It has been the best-selling car in the United States for nine consecutive years.

The 2012 Camry, scheduled to reach dealerships in early October, cannot arrive soon enough for Toyota, which was the world’s largest automaker from 2008 through 2010 but is on pace to rank third this year, behind General Motors and Volkswagen. The company suffered serious damage to a once-impermeable reputation after recalling millions of vehicles to address concerns that some were accelerating out of control. More recently, it has struggled to overcome production disruptions caused by the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in March.

In addition, rivals in Detroit and elsewhere have begun building considerably more excitement around their vehicles than Toyota, whose lineup has generally been composed of bland but worry-free models. The new Camry, likewise, is not flashy or groundbreaking but designed to rekindle sentiments among shoppers that Toyota is a dependable choice, analysts said. Camry sales are down 8 percent this year in the United States, and Toyota’s sales over all are down 7 percent.

Toyota is planning the Camry’s largest-ever marketing campaign starting Oct. 17, a months-long blitz that includes having the car featured prominently during the Super Bowl in February, according to Robert S. Carter, a Toyota group vice president. The company introduced the new model on Tuesday on a Hollywood backlot filled with hundreds of performers, broadcasting the ceremony to gatherings in New York, Michigan and the Georgetown, Ky., plant where Mr. Toyoda appeared.

Toyota is seeking to regain some of its lost market share by increasing the car’s fuel economy and dropping the price of some Camry trim levels by as much as $2,000 below the current versions. In the past, Toyota could command higher prices than most competitors because customers were willing to pay more for the quality and reliability its name represented.

But the Camry is up against much stiffer competition than when it first arrived 28 years ago, and even compared with just five years ago when the current generation was introduced. G.M. and the Ford Motor Company, formerly also-rans in the midsize car segment, now sell much more formidable models in the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion. Sedans from Hyundai and Nissan also have been poaching customers from Toyota.

The new Camry will be the first model to offer Toyota’s new information and entertainment system, called Entune — the type of feature that has helped Ford and others attract new customers.

Toyota said it re-engineered 90 percent of the Camry’s components and that the outside is entirely new, but the car looks similar to its predecessor and remains essentially the same size, albeit with a roomier interior.

“None of the vehicle’s improvements will stop certain enthusiasts from scoffing at the 2012 Toyota Camry and its less-than-revolutionary suit of new clothes, but enthusiasts never sat square in Toyota’s cross hairs to begin with,” said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at the automotive research Web site Edmunds.com. “As ever, the Camry is aimed at the heart of the market where value, fuel economy, safety, quality and comfort reign supreme.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a0b4d2f9d48f6224b3cb0157d9431808

Economix: The Auto Industry, Stuck in the Slow Lane

On the assembly line at a Ford transmission plant in Sterling Heights, Mich., last month.Carlos Osorio/Associated PressOn the assembly line last month at a Ford transmission plant in Sterling Heights, Mich.

Many of those grasping for a sign of economic optimism these days have pointed to the auto industry. The argument is that as supply chains come back on line following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, more automobiles will be available for sale to consumers who have been waiting for cars to arrive.

But don’t expect a roaring comeback yet. A report released on Wednesday by AlixPartners, a business consulting firm, projects modest sales growth for the foreseeable future. The report forecasts that United States auto sales will reach 12.7 million units this year, up from the 11.5 million of 2010, but still far below the 16-million-plus that the industry regularly posted in the mid-2000s. AlixPartners forecasts 13.6 million sales in 2013, and does not project that the industry will get back to its peak before the recession “in this current cycle.”

According to the report, several factors are restraining growth in car sales. Unemployment remains high and housing values are depressed, making it difficult for families to tap housing wealth for car purchases. Historically, the report found, one in five vehicles sold has been financed by an appreciation in a car buyer’s home value.

And in a survey of 1,000 Americans by AlixPartners, 83 percent said they had delayed the purchase of a vehicle or planned to wait another year before buying a car.

John Hoffecker, managing director at AlixPartners, said the level of sales before the recession was unsustainable.

“Many people were thinking that was the norm,” Mr. Hoffecker said. “And our view was that it was not actual demand.”

Instead, he said, sales were buoyed by easy financing by carmakers and rapidly appreciating home and stock values. What is more, he said, automakers did not pay enough attention to their cost structures when selling cars, sometimes at a loss.

On the positive side, said Mr. Hoffecker, American automakers have already regained their profits. And future sales will be fueled by population growth in the United States as well as growing demand in developing markets.

The bad news is that the depressed level of auto sales will not help all the laid-off autoworkers get back to work. While engineers and sales representatives have been rehired to levels before the recession, Mr. Hoffecker said, production labor “is not going to come back any time soon.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d46651373caaaae965be1966b5186317