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Boeing-NLRB dispute could be long, costly fight (Read More…)

April 22, 2011
By John P. McDermott

The union-busting lawsuit targeting Boeing and its new South Carolina aircraft plant is likely to spur a protracted and costly legal battle that could wind its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But it’s not expected to immediately affect the opening this summer of the $750 million assembly line in North Charleston.

The dispute between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board is shaping up to be one of the biggest union fights that fervently anti-union South Carolina has seen in recent years.

The federal agency’s acting general counsel sued the company Wednesday, saying Boeing set up its 787 Dreamliner production plant in North Charleston partly to retaliate against the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers for past strikes in Washington state.

The complaint seeks a court order forcing Boeing to establish the second 787 line in Everett, Wash., the unionized home of the company’s commercial airplane business.

Workers at the aerospace giant’s local plant are not represented by the IAMAW.

Boeing said this week that it will fight the lawsuit, calling the allegations frivolous. It also said the North Charleston plant would open on schedule.

The next step is a hearing June 14 in Seattle before an administrative law judge who works for the NLRB. The full board would then review that judge’s decision, a process that could take months.

If the ruling is contested, the case would be transferred to the federal appeals court system and possibly be submitted for consideration to the Supreme Court if necessary, legal experts said. That would eat up at least two more years.

“It conceivably could go to that,” said Dennis R. Nolan, the Webster Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Labor Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law. “From Boeing’s perspective, there is no doubt this is a big enough deal to go ahead with it.”

If Boeing loses, the local 787 plant “in theory” could be closed, but Nolan stressed that the courts “have been reluctant to order extremely expensive remedies when less-expensive remedies could do the trick.”

Eric C. Schweitzer, an attorney with the Charleston office of Ogletree Deakins who represents management in labor disputes, said the Boeing lawsuit is “probably the biggest labor law case in the last 50 years.”

The lawsuit was triggered by a March 2010 complaint from the IAMAW, which has engaged in five strikes against Boeing between 1977 and 2008.

The NLRB said its investigation found that the company violated two sections of the National Labor Relations Act in 2009 when it picked Charleston International Airport as the site of its second 787 assembly plant rather than expanding its existing factory in Everett.

Specifically, Boeing officials made “coercive statements” to its unionized employees starting in 2009 that the company would shift or had shifted production work away from the Puget Sound area because of labor walkouts, the agency said.

Posted by Admin on 04/22 at 05:18 PM