Union: Default setting for courtroom is ‘unlocked’

SEATTLE – A federal judge has rejected the Boeing Co.’s plan to turn the ongoing National Labor Relations Board hearing into a secret trial.

Federal Administrative Law Judge Clifford Anderson has also placed sharp limits on Boeing’s ability to keep the public – particularly Machinists Union members – from seeing many of the relevant documents that will be entered as evidence in the case.

Both are wins for the union – and for all Americans who believe in open public trials – said Connie Kelliher, a spokeswoman for Machinists Union District Lodge 751.

“The judge gave us, and the NLRB attorneys, most of what we were looking for,” she said. “He set a very high standard for Boeing to meet before it can withhold evidence from the public, and made it clear that the default setting for the courtroom doors will be ‘unlocked.’”

Boeing is accused of having retaliated against its union workforce in Washington and Oregon by announcing it was moving their work on the 787 to South Carolina because workers in the Northwest had gone on strike too often. The federal hearing on the charge has been going on in a Seattle courtroom since June 14.

On July 28, Boeing lawyers had argued before the judge that they should be able to block the public at large – and Machinists Union representatives in particular – from being able to see many of the key documents that have been subpoenaed as evidence in the NLRB’s complaint against Boeing.

Among the documents Boeing wanted to keep secret were details of the incentives taxpayers in South Carolina and Washington state are providing to Boeing, as well as Boeing studies that measured the costs and risks of moving the work to South Carolina from the Northwest.

In addition, Boeing lawyers argued that they should have the ability to clear the courtroom whenever a witness discussed any of the things Boeing wanted to keep secret.

Attorneys for the NLRB and Machinists District 751 opposed the request, saying it went far beyond what was necessary to ensure a fair trial on the complaint.

After two weeks of talks between the three parties failed to produce a compromise on the question of who would get to see which evidence and under what conditions, Judge Anderson on Friday issued an order setting forth the protocols for the rest of the hearing.

He set up a process that allows Boeing to keep some documents secret, but also allows lawyers for the NLRB and union to challenge any confidential Boeing documents they feel are important to the case and therefore should be available to the public like all other evidence.

Anderson also ordered all the parties to “minimize limitations on public access to the proceeding.”

Machinists Union representatives praised the order.

“America’s legal system is based on the idea that trials should be open to the public, and the judge’s order helps ensure that,” Kelliher said. “Boeing will get to keep secret that things that should be kept secret, but it won’t be able to hide evidence that is simply embarrassing or inconvenient.”

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents some 28,500 working men and women at 45 employers across Washington, Oregon and California. In 2010, District 751 members used collective bargaining to reach contracts with 22 of those employers, without a single work day lost to strikes.

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