NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – The $750 million South Carolina plant where Boeing will assemble 787 jetliners was dedicated Friday with little mention of a National Labor Relations Board complaint challenging construction of the largest single industrial investment in state history.
But the lawsuit, which gets its first airing in a Seattle courtroom next week, was the undercurrent as officials and hundreds of plant workers gathered in stifling heat outside the blue and white assembly building the size of 11 football fields.
Jack Jones, vice president and general manager of Boeing, South Carolina, was joined by Gov. Nikki Haley and various state and local officials. He said the new planes will fly at 35,000 feet, carry 250 passengers and must do it safely.
“Boeing has just made a statement today,” Jones said. “They have said we believe airplanes that are that vital and that important can be built outside Puget Sound.”
The federal NLRB sued in April, claiming that Boeing located the assembly line in South Carolina, a right-to-work state, to retaliate against Washington state union workers who went on strike in 2008. The board wants that work returned to Washington state. In right-to-work states like South Carolina, unions cannot force membership across an entire worksite as a condition of employment.
Still, South Carolina plant workers don’t think the jobs will return to Washington.
“It’s all just political posturing. It’s all just a big game,” said 27-year-old plant worker Charles Kaiser.
Michael Sharpe, 47, said he thinks it would be a different story if the jobs had been moved overseas.
“The jobs that came here, if they moved them out of the country, I could see why they would be crying about it,” Sharpe said. “These jobs are in the United States, so let’s keep them. They are American jobs.”
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also noted that Boeing could have moved the jobs overseas.
“Boeing is here in South Carolina and, for anyone wondering, Boeing is going to stay in South Carolina,” he said.
Graham told several media outlets later that he will hold up the nomination of John Bryson as the nation’s new commerce secretary until the Obama administration says Boeing is an ethical company. The nomination of Bryson, a Boeing board member, is already opposed by several GOP lawmakers for other reasons.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., called the Boeing investment a game changer for the state, the most important since the Navy built a base in Charleston in the early 20th century.
Haley, a Republican, promised Boeing would have complete support from South Carolina.
“We are going to fight for you, we’re going to support you, we’re going to be a cheerleader and we can’t wait to see those mac daddy planes come out of here,” Haley said.
The new plant was built in 18 months, and assembly of the first aircraft begins next month. The first South Carolina 787 is expected to fly next year.