Boeing opens Charleston line amid controversy

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Boeing has officially opened its new North Charleston, South Carolina 787 final assembly line, amid an ongoing dispute between the airframer and its largest union over the legality of the sprawling new facility.

Gathered elected officials and representatives from Boeing, business groups, suppliers and subcontractors, along with more than 1,000 company employees marked the opening of the $750 million 59,711 sq m (642,720 sq ft) facility with a ceremonial ribbon cutting.

"In this building, our talented Boeing South Carolina teammates are going to assemble the finest, most technologically advanced commercial widebody airplane in history," said Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing South Carolina.

"Airline customers from around the world will come to the South Carolina Lowcountry to take delivery of their 787s, and we look forward to demonstrating what 'made with pride in South Carolina' is all about."

Boeing received its formal temporary certificate of occupancy on 16 May and began moving personnel into the completed areas of the final assembly building, beginning a phased move in process that is expected to run through the end of June.

The first Charleston-built 787, Airplane 46, is expected to be loaded onto the final assembly line tooling in July.

The massive new facility houses an eight-position horseshoe-shaped line twice as wide as a single bay at the company's Everett, Washington factory, which will eventually be ramped up to three aircraft per month.

While Boeing has said the line will begin as a horse-shoe shaped line, the eight positions are capable of being split into two side-by-side lines, significantly increasing the output of the facility.

The October 2009 selection of Charleston as the site of the second 787 final assembly line came after Boeing and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace workers (IAM) failed to reach an agreement over a long term contract, which would have secured the second line's home in Everett, along side today's primary line.

That decision prompted a formal complaint by the IAM against Boeing, alleging the company illegally retaliated for the September-October 2008 IAM strike by placing its second 787 final assembly line in South Carolina.

On 14 June an administrative judge will begin a process of deliberating over a formal complaint brought by the US National Labor Relations Board on behalf of the IAM.

US law prohibits businesses from punishing workers whose right to strike is protected by the Labor Relations Act.

The controversy has become an issue in the US presidential nominating contest with Republican party candidates claiming the politicization of labor enforcement by the Obama administration, while defending corporation's rights to relocate work wherever they see fit.

Unlike Washington state, South Carolina is a "right to work" state that does not mandate union membership as a condition of employment, and is also a key Presidential primary during the extended nomination process.

The NLRB said "The complaint does not seek closure of the South Carolina facility, nor does it prohibit Boeing from assembling planes there" but seeks to remedy the "alleged unfair labor practices" by placing the second line in Washington state.

Boeing vehemently denies the allegations, citing an increased level of employment in both Everett and Charleston.

Ahead of the hearing, the airframer reportedly rejected a settlement agreement by the IAM, according to the Seattle Times, which included a request to place future work for the next all-new aircraft in Puget Sound.