Tug-of-war over Dreamliner jobs

787-9 Boeing Dreamliner Artwork K64937-01
Boeing Graphics


The federal government is going after one of the nation's best-known companies - alleging that Boeing is trying to harm the union that builds its largest plane. If the National Labor Relations Board gets its way, Boeing may have to delay opening the massive non-union factory it just completed.

Lee Gaylor never thought she'd be struggling simply to survive.

"You gotta find a way to survive and if it means this, I never thought I would do anything like this but, I can deal with it," Gaylor told CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Pictures: The battle for Boeing Dreamliner jobs

After a yearlong search, she left her home on 10 acres in Tennessee to live in a trailer in South Carolina - and to learn to build Boeing 787 Dreamliners in a new billion-dollar plant in North Charleston.

Learn more about the Boeing Dreamliner

Where would she be without Boeing?

"Home without a job in Tennessee," Gaylor said.

But a complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board could shut down Gaylor's job before it really begins.

National Labor Relations Board

Trident Technical College

When production starts on the 787 Dreamliner in the plant next month, at least 1,000 jobs will be added to an economy in South Carolina that has an unemployment rate of nearly 10 percent - well above the national average. So why is that a problem?

"The problem is those jobs will be taken out of Everett, Washington, where employees are currently working in those jobs," says Chris Corson. "And those employees need those jobs too."

Corson, of the International Association of Machinists, which represents Boeing workers at its Everett, Washington assembly plant, says this is Boeing's payback for a 58-day strike in 2008.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers

He says the jobs in the production of the 787 Dreamliner should be removed from South Carolina and sent back to Washington.

The Washington state plant is fully unionized but South Carolina is not - giving the company greater flexibility in managing its workers. Boeing's state reasons for operating in South Carolina include Charleston's world-class port and lower costs. But executive vice president Jim Albaugh gave a different reason to the Seattle Times in a taped online interview:

"The overriding factor was not the business climate and it was not the wages we're paying people today. It was that we can't afford to have a work stoppage every three years," Albaugh said.

And that raises the central question: Is Lee Gaylor's job new - legally created just for the South Carolina plant, as Boeing insists? Or is it an existing job transferred from a union to a non-union shop as punishment?

"Labor law has important protections for employees in the work place," Corson says. "And when those employees exercise their rights and a company takes away their work. that's unlawful."

Boeing senior vice president Tom Downey says "no company makes a billion dollar decision out of spite."

Downey points to 2,000 new jobs the company created in Washington state since 2009 as proof there's no retaliation - and no net job loss.

Downey said, "At the end of the day, whether it's within the NLRB process itself or when the case reaches the courts, we believe that we are in fact gonna prevail."

If Boeing loses, it will have to move all the Dreamliner jobs and the investment that's gone wit it to Everett. The company says it does not even have a backup plan for the new assembly plant.

But as for Lee Gaylor - herself a former union member - she just wants a job.

"I wanna work," she says. "Those are not my problems. My problem is having work. Having a life and being comfortable"

Her only focus now is earning enough money to move out of her trailer.

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.