July 13, 2024

Boeing Labor Battle Is Poised to Go Before Judge

Boeing, the N.L.R.B. and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers local that initiated the case all still say they would like to find a way to settle. Appeals could grind on for years, clouding the future of Boeing’s $750 million Dreamliner assembly plant scheduled to start production in July in North Charleston, S.C. Negotiators and outside analysts said that any deal would most likely require Boeing to commit to adding some level of new production lines to its Puget Sound manufacturing hub in exchange for certain union concessions, like a no-strike pledge.

The labor board’s top lawyer says Boeing’s decision to move the operation to South Carolina constituted illegal retaliation against Boeing’s unionized workers in Washington for engaging in their legally protected right to strike, including a 58-day walkout in 2008.

Boeing has acknowledged that the fear of labor disruptions factored into its thinking, but it said the main reason for moving the line was South Carolina’s lower production costs. Starting pay at the South Carolina plant is $14 an hour, while starting pay in Washington is $15 an hour, rising to an average of $28 an hour.

The case has stirred a political firestorm. Republicans have joined business leaders in accusing the labor board of trying to sabotage right-to-work states as well as the fundamental right of corporate managers to decide how and where to run their businesses.

South Carolina’s governor, Nikki R. Haley, wants to make the dispute an issue in the presidential campaign, while Congressional Republicans have threatened to cut the labor board’s financing and have urged President Obama to withdraw the nomination of Lafe Solomon, the board’s acting general counsel, who brought the Boeing case.

“It is absurd, in this country that represents free enterprise, that one unaccountable, unelected, unconfirmed acting general counsel can threaten thousands of jobs,” said Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina. “This is something you would expect in a third world country.”

Although the president appoints the board’s top officials, the agency operates independently. Several Republicans have accused President Obama of carrying water for organized labor by having the board bring the case. Mr. Solomon and Obama administration officials say the White House has had nothing to do with the dispute.

The White House has been largely silent about the case, although numerous Congressional Democrats have assailed Republicans for attacking an agency that they say is merely enforcing the law and protecting workers’ right to strike.

Mr. Solomon brought the case after the machinists’ union filed a complaint, arguing that the South Carolina plan was illegally taking jobs from Washington State. As a remedy, he wants Boeing to move the 1,000-employee production line, which will initially build three planes a month, to Washington.

Mr. Solomon said in an interview that he spent three months in settlement talks with both sides before the board filed the case, and that contacts continue intermittently. “Nothing would make me happier than to reach a settlement,” he said.

In a speech last week at a conference at the New York University School of Law, he added: “I felt and still feel these parties have a longstanding relationship with each other. They have a deep past together and have a deep future together, and it would be advantageous to all if a settlement could be worked out.”

Many legal specialists say the N.L.R.B. and the machinists’ union have a good chance of winning before the administrative law judge in Seattle and in the next stage of the legal process, an appeal to the Democrat-dominated, five-seat labor board in the District of Columbia. The case before the law judge is expected to last weeks as the board and Boeing spar over which documents to turn over to the other side.

Boeing and some legal specialists say the company is likely to win in the federal circuit court that would hear appeals after that.

But no one wants the case to drag on for years.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=7549f85edc78338f63345a0bf9d3efb3

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