Labor board accuses Boeing of retaliating against union

Federal labor regulators are accusing Boeing Co. of illegally retaliating for a 2008 union strike by adding a nonunion assembly line in South Carolina for its new 787 passenger jet.


The complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board said the remedy should include moving the South Carolina assembly work back to Washington state, where it would be under union jurisdiction.

The complaint quotes public statements by Boeing executives saying they put the plant in South Carolina in part to avoid future labor disruptions. The government complaint said this amounts to discriminating based on union activity.

Most 787s are being assembled in Washington state by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Boeing expects to deliver the first one later this year, and with more than 800 orders it's expected to be a major seller for years. Boeing plans to build seven 787s per month in the Puget Sound area near Seattle and three per month at a new plant in Charleston, S.C., where its more than 1,000 workers are non-union.

An IAM strike in late 2008 shut down Boeing's commercial airplane production for eight weeks. It was one of several factors contributing to the delay of more than three years for the 787. Less than a year after the strike ended, Boeing said the second 787 production line would be in South Carolina, which offered Boeing $170 million in incentives and relief from sales taxes on things like fuel used in test flights.

The complaint quoted President, Chairman and CEO Jim McNerney saying on an earnings conference call that Boeing was moving some 787 workers to South Carolina because of "strikes happening every three to four years in Puget Sound." The NLRB also said an Oct. 28, 2009, memo about the South Carolina assembly line said that one reason was to reduce Boeing's vulnerability to delivery disruptions caused by work stoppages.

One factor in moving work to South Carolina was that Boeing worked with two major suppliers -- which it later bought out -- in the Charleston area, said Boeing spokesman Tim Neale.

Neale also said the number of IAM workers in the Puget Sound area has actually grown by 2,000.

In a statement, Boeing said the complaint departs from NLRB and Supreme Court precedents.

"Boeing has every right under both federal law and its collective bargaining agreement to build additional U.S. production capacity outside of the Puget Sound region," said Boeing general counsel J. Michael Luttig.