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Originally published Friday, April 22, 2011 at 3:02 PM

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Boeing's South Carolina 787 assembly line disappointing but not 'unfair'

The Seattle Times editorial board does not support the National Labor Relations Board's move against Boeing.

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IT was a blow to Puget Sound country when Boeing put its second 787 assembly line in South Carolina. It was also part of a hardball negotiation between the company and the International Association of Machinists. This page regretted Boeing's decision, but has never thought of it as something that could be, or should be, reversed by the federal government.

The National Labor Relations Board has labeled Boeing's decision an unfair labor practice, and is asking a federal court to order the line to be moved to Washington. We would celebrate the day Boeing decided to do that — but it is Boeing's decision.

The company and the union are both grown-ups here. Each knows its rights.

The union has a right to strike. It may be unwise to strike at a particular time, such as the month Wall Street had its worst collapse in 75 years, but it is the union's right.

The company has the right to build assembly plants. It can build them in South Carolina or in Afghanistan if it likes. Its decision may be unwise, but it is Boeing's.

Clearly, Boeing could have skipped the negotiation and put its second line in North Charleston, S.C., keeping its reasons to itself. The "unfair" thing was to bellyache publicly that it was tired of strikes, which everyone knew, and to offer to put the plant here if the Machinists agreed not to strike for 10 years.

Was it not better to offer the chance for a deal?

If that put the Machinists under pressure — and it did — such pressures are part of life in American industry. This page urged the union to agree to a no-strike deal, as did public figures such as U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton.

Machinists did negotiate, offering Boeing a no-strike agreement if the company would have a no-layoff agreement. The company would not. The Machinists would not accept Boeing's proposal without one of their own. The talks ended and Boeing announced for North Charleston.

That limits Boeing's growth here, but it has not stopped it. Boeing has increased employment of IAM members here by 2,000 since announcing the Charleston decision. At planned production rates of 10 airplanes per month, seven of them will be assembled in Everett, by Machinists.

Finally there is a matter of timing. More than two years have gone by since Boeing's decision. In South Carolina the company has invested $1 billion and hired more than 1,000 workers. It's a done deal.

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