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Federal agency sues Boeing on behalf of unionized workers

A Boeing 787 Dreamliner is seen at Boeing Field In Seattle, Wash.

Jeremy Hobson: Well in Seattle today a judge will hear arguments involving unionized labor and Boeing's much-discussed 787 Dreamliner airplane. Boeing opened up a plant last week in South Carolina to build its new fuel efficient plane, but it was a non-union plant. That's led to a fight between the Boeing company and the National Labor Relations Board.

Bellamy Pailthorp has our story now from KPLU in Seattle.


Bellamy Pailthorp: Here's what the NLRB alleges: Boeing built the second assembly line for the Dreamliner in South Carolina as retaliation for past strikes by the Machinists union in Washington state. And that, it says, is against the law.

Paul Veltkamp: It's a legally protected right and we exercised it and the company retaliated against us for it.

Paul Veltkamp is a shop steward for the Machinists union. He's worked for Boeing 15 years now and says the company's actions have had a definite chilling effect.

Veltkamp: People on the shop floor would come up to me, after they had announced that they were moving this line to South Carolina and they'd say, we have to have a contract next time. We can't go on strike or they're going to send all of our jobs down to South Carolina.

Old-timers say Boeing tries with every contract to take away pay and benefits, even when it's selling record numbers of airplanes. Frederick Hoskins has worked there for 25 years. He says when top executives repeatedly defended their decision to go to South Carolina with anti-union sentiments, it was too much.

Frederick Hoskins: It was said over and over and over: we keep going on strike; they want to put it somewhere where they can keep business going and stay competitive. That's why they moved it.

Tim Neal: There is a very clear precedent -- including from the Supreme Court -- that companies can take the economic impact of strikes into account, when making new investments.

Boeing spokesman Tim Neal says no one has lost a job in Puget Sound as a result of their new plant in South Carolina.

Neal: In fact, we've actually added 2,000 hourly union jobs in the Puget Sound region over the past year and a half.

Boeing workers in South Carolina have joined the fight against the NLRB.

Dennis Murray: They would probably board up this facility and I'd be out of work.

Dennis Murray is a quality assurance inspector at the new facility. He thinks South Carolina workers are being discriminated against because they're in a right-to-work state, where unions can't be mandatory.

This fight has taken on epic proportions with attorneys general of 16 states now attacking the NLRB, and Congress investigating the agency with hearings of its own.

In Seattle, I'm Bellamy Pailthorp for Marketplace.

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