Lawyers for Boeing Co. and the National Labor Relations Board clashed Tuesday at a hearing on the board’s allegations that the aircraft maker illegally shifted work from union plants in Washington state to a new non-union factory in South Carolina.

The hearing, which dealt mostly with procedural issues, marked the start of what could be a lengthy and politically charged legal battle, unless Boeing and the company’s machinists union, whose complaint sparked the board’s inquiry, settle their differences.

The administrative law judge hearing the case urged the parties Tuesday to work toward a settlement.

At stake is the future of a $1 billion factory Boeing recently opened to build its new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet. The NLRB alleges that Boeing built the plant in South Carolina, where unions are weak, to punish union workers in Washington state for their past strikes. As evidence, the NLRB cited public comments by Boeing executives.

Boeing asked the judge to dismiss the case as unfounded. “Frankly, we have a hard time understanding the elements” of the NLRB’s allegations, said William Kilberg, an outside counsel for the company.

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