Boeing’s secrets at issue in NLRB flap

Which information should be kept confidential in a very public case between the Boeing Co. and the National Labor Relations Board?

That was a question at the heart of arguments made in front of an administrative law judge in Seattle on Thursday.

The labor board has accused Boeing of punishing its Machinists for labor strikes in the Puget Sound region by putting a second 787 assembly line in South Carolina. The board’s general counsel has suggested Boeing set up another 787 line in Washington to make up for their alleged wrongdoing. Boeing says it made a business choice, not one out of spite.

The parties, which include attorneys for the Machinists union, first appeared in front of Judge Clifford Anderson in mid-June. But for the most part, they’ve been working in private on how to deal with various documents and evidence.

However, the sides can’t agree on how to handle sensitive information in the case.

In its filing, Boeing said it seeks to label some information “confidential” and keep that information from the public. Confidential information would include “trade secrets … information pertaining to Boeing’s business strategy or development plans, and non-public information pertaining to Boeing’s taxes and finances.” The parties involved in the case would have access to the information, but it would be kept from the public.

Boeing also seeks to label other material as “highly confidential.” Those documents would be kept not only from the public but also from the Machinists. Attorneys for the labor board would have access to the information. The highly confidential material “is likely to result in harm to Boeing in its dealings with the (Machinists) by providing the (Machinists) with an unfair advantage in collective bargaining,” Boeing argues. Information that Boeing considers highly confidential includes studies and analyses dealing with work placement, aircraft assembly rate information, and asset allocation plans.

Attorneys for the labor board said they don’t “reject out of hand” Boeing’s request, but said in their filing that Boeing failed to show good cause in its request for a protective order. Attorneys for the Machinists and labor board believe Boeing’s “sweeping” request would create too many challenges in the case.

“We suspect the documents Boeing wants to keep secret prove that Boeing executives didn’t make a legitimate business decision to transfer work from Everett to Charleston, but instead broke the law by moving because of union activity here,” Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for the local Machinists union, said in a statement.

Boeing has asked for a protective order that would be enforced by a federal district court. The Machinists and labor board do not want to involve the federal court.

The judge did not rule on the requests on Thursday.

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