File // Leroy Burnell // The Post and Courier
The NLRB lawsuit targets Boeing’s new 787 plant in at Charleston International Airport, where the logo on the side of the massive building recently received a coat of blue paint. Production is expected to start in July.
COLUMBIA -- Several states have joined South Carolina's attorney general in objecting to a federal labor lawsuit filed against Boeing Corp. for opening a 787 Dreamliner assembly plant in North Charleston.
Attorney General Alan Wilson and eight other attorneys general said in a letter Thursday that the National Labor Relations Board's lawsuit against Boeing hurts the states' ability to create jobs and recruit industry.
"Intrusion by the federal bureaucracy on behalf of unions will not create a single new job or put one unemployed person back to work," the letter said. It also was signed by the attorneys general in Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.
The labor board's lawsuit filed this month alleges that Boeing decided to build a $750 million aircraft assembly plant at Charleston International Airport because it was concerned about past and potential future strikes by union workers in Washington state.
South Carolina is a right-to-work state with the third-lowest rate of unionized workers at 5.4 percent.
The NLRB suit quotes public statements by Boeing executives saying they built the plant in South Carolina in part to avoid future labor disruptions, and that, the government said, 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.
The labor board has requested a court order forcing Boeing to build all Dreamliners in the Pacific Northwest. An administrative judge is scheduled to hear the NLRB's request in June.
Boeing and several state leaders have said the South Carolina plant doesn't replace any operations in Washington, but is an expansion that included adding workers in the Northwest.
The company plans to fight the suit, saying it has a right to build additional production capacity outside the Puget Sound region.
The South Carolina branch of the National Federation of Independent Business supported Wilson's letter.
"This overreaching by the federal government to dictate where Boeing builds its planes is offensive and an attack on South Carolina's status as a right-to-work state," said state federation director J.J. Darby. "People shouldn't have to join a union to get a job and companies should be allowed to make their own decisions about where and how to run their businesses. I think the NLRB's actions are retaliatory and politically motivated, an attempt to appease union voters."
The remarks echo those expressed by numerous South Carolina politicians, including U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Gov. Nikki Haley, both Republicans, and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, a Democrat.
Boeing has said the North Charleston plant would open on schedule this summer. It has hired about 1,000 employees to staff the line, which is expected to create at least 3,800 jobs.
The local, nonunion factory is expected to produce up to three 787s a month by late 2013, with another seven coming out of the larger unionized plant in Everett, Wash., by that time.
The hearing on June 14 will be held 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 have said. That would eat up at least two more years.
Boeing CEO Jim McNerney did not address the lawsuit this week during a conference call with industry analysts and the media.
The Post and Courier contributed to this report.