Boeing Co. is accusing federal labor regulators of unfairly twisting or misquoting statements by company executives to make a case that the company illegally retaliated against union workers.
In a letter, the company urges the National Labor Relations Board to withdraw a complaint "based upon these misstatements" that accuses Boeing of locating a new plant in South Carolina in part to avoid future labor disruptions in Washington state.
"You have a responsibility to correct these misquotations and mischaracterizations, for the public record and also for purposes of the complaint you have filed," Boeing general counsel Michael Luttig wrote. "Through these misquotations and mischaracterizations, you have done a grave disservice to The Boeing Company, its executives and shareholders, and to the 160,000 Boeing employees worldwide."
The complaint, filed last month, alleges that Boeing located a new assembly line for the 787 aircraft in South Carolina -- a right-to-work state -- to retaliate against union workers in Washington state who went on strike in 2008. The NLRB is seeking a court order that would force Boeing to return all 787 assembly work to Washington, even though the company has already built a new South Carolina plant and hired 1,000 new workers there.
Boeing filed a formal response on Wednesday that said that stopping 787 work in South Carolina would be impermissibly punitive because it would effectively shut it down. It would also be a radical departure from legal precedent, the company said.
Boeing has taken issue with the labor board's claim that the company removed or transferred any work from its Washington state facility in Puget Sound, where the aircraft is assembled by members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The Chicago-based company says all the work in South Carolina will be new work and that no union member has lost a job over the action.
Luttig's letter also disputes assertions that statements by Boeing executives show the company wanted to "punish" union workers for past strikes.
"These statements show, at most, that the company considered (among multiple other factors) the risk and potential costs of future strikes in deciding where to locate its new final assembly facility," Luttig said. Its formal response to the labor board said that even if its intent in opening the South Carolina plant were to avoid the economic impact of a potential strike, that would not be tantamount to retaliating against the union for prior strikes.
NLRB spokeswoman Nancy Cleeland said a hearing set for June 14 in Seattle is the appropriate venue to address the merits of the complaint.
"The complaint indicates that an investigation of charges brought by the Machinists' union found sufficient evidence to present the allegations to an administrative law judge," Cleeland said.