SEATTLE Boeing Co and the agency that accused it of putting a non-union factory in South Carolina to punish unionized workers in Washington battled in court on Thursday over the company's request to block public access to its trade secrets during hearings.
Boeing has asked the administrative law judge in the case to issue an order keeping confidential some information on the planemaker's labor costs for its 787 Dreamliner program that competitors might desire.
But the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which brought the complaint, and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) union say the request is too broad and that it unfairly conceals details that are crucial to the case.
Boeing's proposed order "will throw a blanket over the proceedings," said IAM attorney David Campbell. "Their order is so broad that the case would almost be a secret case."
The company wants to guard information on its costs from its top rival Airbus, a unit of EADS, as well as from competitors in China and Brazil, said Boeing attorney Eugene Scalia, who is the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
"There's a clear risk of serious injury," he said.
The IAM and the NLRB, however, say details on tax incentives offered by South Carolina to locate the plant there are at the heart of the case and should be accessible.
Judge Clifford Anderson did not say when he would give his decision. He said he would issue a "protocol" for dealing with sensitive information but that it was unlikely to be a blanket order sealing documents.
"If we have to do it document by document, we will," he said.
Boeing disputes the NLRB claim that it put the $750 million 787 assembly plant in South Carolina as retaliation against the IAM for past strikes. The new plant represents the addition of jobs to the company, not the relocation of work, Boeing says.
The case has become a lightning rod for a larger debate between supporters of union rights and those who believe U.S. companies should be free to build factories where they want.
The Dreamliner, a lightweight, carbon-composite airplane, is three years behind schedule because of snags in its complex global supply chain. But the company also blames a 58-day IAM strike in 2008 for part of the delay.
The 787 plant in South Carolina is set to assemble three 787 Dreamliners each month, while the primary 787 plant in Everett, Washington, would build another seven.
Boeing shares ended 3 cents higher at $70.66 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.
(Writing by Kyle Peterson, editing by Matthew Lewis)