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Will Boeing Blink in Labor Battle?

Stocks in this article: BA

Over 90% of the cases the NLRB chooses to pursue are settled, spokeswoman Cleeland said. In the Boeing case, she said, before the complaint was issued, the NLRB general counsel invited representatives from Boeing and the IAM to Washington for settlement talks, but no agreement was reached.

Boeing spokesman Tim Neale said he won't speculate beyond Boeing's plan to get to 10 787s a month by the end of 2013, within seven produced in Everett and three produced in Charleston. Neale said Boeing has invested $750 million in the Charleston plant, where production is scheduled to begin July 10.

"Building 10 a month in Everett would leave nothing for Charleston because our supply chain can support a total of 10, at least for the forseeable future," Neale said. "Whether we could, or would, do more someday is a speculative question that we're not going to answer. We have a long ways to go just to get to 10."

Neale said the surge line in Everett is "intended to help us get up to rate and is not designed for long-term use." Adding additional, permanent 787 capacity would be costly and, in the short term, would duplicate costs already incurred in Charleston, he said. Boeing has hired 2,000 new workers in Puget Sound, to work on a variety of aircraft, since it made the decision to build 787s in Charleston.

"We like to keep the communication lines open with the union, but it is not clear to us at this point what a reasonable settlement would look like," Neale said.

Aviation consultant Scott Hamilton said the NLRB's charge that Boeing linked construction of the South Carolina plant to its conflict with the IAM is accurate. During the time Boeing was making the decision on where to add 787 production, Washington officials tried to convince the company to put the work in Everett, "All (Boeing) said to the state and to others was 'there is nothing Washington can do to keep us here (because) it's all about labor,'" Hamilton said. "Now they say it was business climate and incentives. Come on Boeing, you don't think we have a memory?"

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