Judge urges Boeing, Machinists to reach a settlement on S.C. 787 plant

SEATTLE — The Boeing Co. asked a judge Tuesday to dismiss a labor complaint that alleges its new 787 plant was built as retaliation against its Machinists in the Puget Sound region.

The administrative law judge didn’t rule on a dismissal, but he did urge Boeing and its union to reach a settl

ement rather than wait for a legal process that could take up to five years.

“We don’t give justice quickly enough,” Judge Clifford H. Anderson said in the first day of the hearing in Seattle.

Anderson will hear a federal complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board on the Machinists’ behalf. The labor board has accused Boeing of punishing Machinists for labor strikes when it selected South Carolina as home to its second 787 line in 2009.

The remedy sought by the board is to have a second 787 production line established in Washington. Boeing just opened its South Carolina facility on Friday.

But Boeing attorney William Kilberg said the complaint should be dropped, claiming that no Machinists in Washington have been harmed by Boeing’s decision to set up shop in South Carolina.

Boeing “has added jobs in the Puget Sound (region) at the same time that we’ve added jobs in Charleston,” Kilberg said.

In order to have a legitimate complaint, Kilberg said, the labor board would need to be able to show the harm already done to Boeing workers in the state.

Machinist Paul Veltkamp, who has worked for Boeing 15 years, attended the opening hearing. Veltkamp works on the 747 line in Everett.

“I think the important point is not about taking jobs away,” he said. “It’s that the company broke the law.”

Mara-Louise Anzalone, lead attorney for the labor board, will have until Tuesday to respond to Boeing’s motion to dismiss the case. Anzalone, however, noted that the labor board and Machinists have “ample” evidence to show that Boeing picked South Carolina in an effort to “strike-proof” itself.

Boeing made the decision to put its first assembly line outside the Puget Sound region after talks between the company and Machinists failed. The company sought a long-term no-strike agreement, while the Machinists looked for assurances of future work in the region.

Judge Anderson said on Tuesday that he would be “cheered” by new settlement discussions. He likened the case to a dispute in a marriage that’s going to continue.

After the hearing, representatives for both Boeing and its Machinists union said they’re willing to discuss a settlement.

“Boeing is always open to a settlement,” Kilberg said.

However, the company is not open to giving the Machinists commitments on where it will place future work.

Machinists’ spokeswoman Connie Kelliher said the union is also open to talking to Boeing but noted that the company has been unwilling to do so.

Attorneys for both sides spent much of the first day of the hearing discussing how to deal with various legal matters that had not been addressed when the hearing began. Those talks are expected to continue for several days.

Judge Anderson also plans to resolve a question posed by Boeing attorneys about whether Lafe Solomon, the acting general counsel for the labor board, had the legal authority to file the complaint based on the temporary nature of his position when he filed it. Solomon has yet to receive confirmation from the Senate.

Boeing’s Kilberg said the company doesn’t plan to ask to drop the case based on that point. Regardless, Anderson said he’ll rule on it before the two sides begin presenting evidence.

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