Boeing denies union claim

The first Dreamliner taxied under its own power from the Boeing flight line in Everett, Wash., onto Paine Field for a series of taxi tests.

Boeing Co.'s decision to build a new 787 production line in North Charleston was about ensuring reliability, not exacting revenge, the aerospace giant said Monday.

Union workers near Seattle have filed a complaint against Boeing, saying the Chicago-based company located the new factory away from its longtime manufacturing hub in Washington state as punitive measure against organized labor.

The National Labor Relations Board will review the filing brought by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 751 and decide whether to issue a formal complaint, according to Richard Ahearn, the board's regional director in Seattle.

He said a complaint over unfair labor practices touches off negotiations for a settlement. If none is reached, litigation would be the next step, Ahearn said. He declined to comment on the most likely outcome.

Officials with the union and its attorney in the case did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

The March filing alleges that Boeing officials threatened union members, did not bargain in good faith and transferred work to a new plant with non-union employees "in retaliation."

Union laborers staged an eight-week strike in 2008 that compounded delays in producing passenger jets at the Everett, Wash., assembly line and cost Boeing tens of millions of dollars.

The month prior to Boeing's announcement to expand in North Charleston last year, local factory workers voted overwhelmingly to decertify an election that made them members of the IAM union, a move that some analysts have said was key to landing the deal for South Carolina.

Boeing officials denied any connection at the time.

Tim Healy, a Seattle-based spokesman for Boeing, called the union's complaint "meritless" and stressed that the North Charleston assembly line changes nothing at the original factory in Everett.

"The decision to put the second final assembly line in Charleston was all about future work," Healy said Monday. "The decision does not affect existing jobs in the Puget Sound, so that's a fundamental point."

Once up and running in early 2012, the $750 million North Charleston assembly line is projected to make three Dreamliner jets a month compared with seven a month in Everett.

Healy dismissed the union's allegations, but he did not deny that the strikes deeply affected the company's operations or that Jim Albaugh, the top executive at Boeing Commercial Airplanes, publicly referenced the fallout.

"Certainly, the strikes speak to our reliability as a supplier," Healy said. "(Albaugh) is talking about how it's critical for us to be reliable, and we have to be competitive on wages and benefits."

Healy said Boeing negotiated with the machinists union in the weeks leading up to announcement of where it would build its second Dreamliner plant.

"We were very clear about what we needed to present to our board put to the second line in Everett: long-term labor stability and long-term competitiveness on cost," he said. "We weren't able to come to an agreement."

Reach Allyson Bird at 937-5594 or abird@postandcourier.com.