Boeing and IAM spar over disclosure of documents in NLRB lawsuit

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The judge presiding over the complaint filed against Boeing by the Federal Government and machinists union claiming the establishment of its North Charleston, South Carolina 787 final assembly line is illegal, has denied the airframer's request for the strictest level of secrecy for the company's documents that are expected to be presented as evidence in the trial.

The US National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) earlier this year filed the suit against Boeing on behalf of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

On 12 August the judge presiding in the case ruled the documents must now be introduced in summary to lawyers representing the IAM and NLRB.

Both sides in the case declared the ruling a win, though the criteria for secrecy falls short of what Boeing initially requested.

"We're pleased the administrative Law Judge recognised the need for an order to protect confidential Boeing information. The order contains a number of the provisions that we thought were necessary, but not all. We will continue to seek protections to ensure that Boeing's sensitive, confidential information is not improperly disclosed," said Boeing spokesman Tim Neale.

The NLRB and the IAM allege that Boeing placed its second 787 final assembly line in South Carolina as retaliation for the September-October 2008 strike that halted jetliner production at the airframer's Pacific Northwestern facilities.

Boeing's defence of the move is predicated on claiming the expansion, not relocation, of work already done by its factories in the Puget Sound region, adding that it was a cost advantage of establishing operations in South Carolina that ultimately led to the company's decision to locate the second line in North Charleston.

The NLRB and IAM have requested to view the cost data Boeing used to justify the business case for the second line placement to validate Boeing's claim, though the aircraft-maker has vehemently objected to such disclosures, claiming it would provide Airbus and other manufacturers proprietary information and the IAM's labour negotiators data that would impact collective bargaining with the airframer.

Boeing said it had sought to establish a two-tier document classification to prevent proprietary data from being discussed in open court, and requested that any IAM representatives viewing cost data would be barred from future bargaining with the manufacturer.

Further, any appeal of the protective order for individual documents would have required a Federal District Court judge to review the classification, a process that the IAM said would have taken weeks or months.

Boeing said it plans to ask Judge Anderson for specific clarifications on the ruling when it is in court on 17 August.

On 30 June, Anderson previously denied a motion by Boeing to have the case dismissed.