Boeing Co. (BA) argued yesterday that some information related to a 787 Dreamliner factory should be sealed from the public as the planemaker tries to overturn a National Labor Relations Board complaint alleging anti-union retaliation.
Boeing asked an administrative law judge in Seattle to designate an array of documents and testimony as confidential, keeping them from the machinists union, journalists and rivals such as Airbus SAS. The labor board and union argued that as long as no proprietary 787 data is requested, and because of wide news coverage of the case, the information should be public.
The gist of the complaint is that Boeing illegally threatened employees, “and those workers want to see this hearing,” Dave Campbell, a Seattle-based attorney for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, told the judge.
The NLRB claims Boeing executives said they were building a nonunion plant in South Carolina, the first outside the Seattle area, to achieve production stability after five strikes since 1989. Federal law prohibits retaliation over a walkout, and the board wants restitution in the form of another 787 assembly line in the Puget Sound region, where Boeing employees are represented by unions.
Boeing has said financial considerations drove the decision and U.S. companies have the right to move work around the country. South Carolina workers are scheduled to build the first Dreamliner in the state next year. The plant’s monthly target output will be three jets by 2013, with a goal of seven planes a month in Everett, Washington.
Concern Over Airbus
“To the extent that there is financial information that would harm Boeing shareholders because it came in the possession of Airbus, for example, that would present issues,” Eugene Scalia, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Washington, D.C., who represents Boeing, said in an interview outside the courthouse. In addition, certain documents would give the union an advantage in negotiating the next contract, he said.
If union lawyers aren’t allowed in the room to provide their expertise on the topics and help the NLRB prepare for cross-witness, it would be “disabling” for the board’s case against Boeing, Campbell testified.
The company wants an order on the matter by a federal judge, rather than the administrative law judge, because federal courts have the power to impose sanctions for any violations, Scalia said.
Boeing considers just 2 percent to 3 percent of more than 4,000 documents produced for the case to be confidential, said Richard Hankins, an Atlanta-based lawyer with McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP working for Boeing.
Under Boeing’s protective order, “most of the important parts of the trial would be closed to the public and press, and the record would be sealed,” Campbell, the union lawyer, said in an interview.
The NLRB brought the complaint against Boeing in April after a yearlong inquiry, and the hearing that began in June has covered pre-evidentiary issues such as subpoena requests. Boeing has said it expects to lose initially and will appeal all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The attorneys said they planned to meet to negotiate a possible agreement last night, with the goal of presenting a compromise to the judge when the hearing resumes today.
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