Boeing eyes ending staggered start times to optimize production

EVERETT — Traffic around the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant could get worse in the new year.

Streets and highways near the plant already are jammed during shift changes, when thousands of workers come and go from the company’s sprawling factory. Boeing currently staggers when shop floor workers clock in, which spreads out the traffic around the plant.

Boeing is doing away with staggered start times at least on the 787 program, starting Jan. 23, according to an internal memo sent to 787 managers Tuesday.

The memo indicated that other programs could see similar changes.

“Everett Manufacturing is moving to standard work schedules,” the unsigned memo said.

A company spokesman declined to comment on any specific shift changes.

“We continuously evaluate and adjust employee work schedules to optimize our production system,” Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman said. “We are communicating with our employees, unions and other impacted parties about the slight adjustments we are making to some of our work schedules.”

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 751, which represents about 30,000 Boeing workers, had not been contacted as of Thursday, when it closed for the holidays, union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher said.

Traffic around the plant slows to a crawl around shift changes, especially first shift, when the biggest number of shop floor workers are scheduled. The exodus after first shift ends can be just as bad.

“It can take sometimes 15 minutes just to get out of the parking lot,” one worker said.

Varying when people clock in and out helps spread the congestion, but it does not eliminate it, said Ryan Sass, city engineer for Everett.

The biggest effect comes between 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. “It is more of a plateau than a peak” in traffic, he said.

The Boeing memo said the schedule adjustment will help improve efficiency. “This change supports the factory vision of standard work, continuous flow and scheduled job times; and is anticipated to support our competitive advantage in the market.”

Boeing executives increasingly have emphasized the company’s efforts to increase efficiency and drive down costs.

The aerospace giant is contending with tough competition from rival Airbus Group and a drop in orders for new airplanes. At the same time, Boeing continues to work off $31 billion in deferred costs on the 787 program, plans to spend $14 billion buying back its own stock shares, and its chief executive promised in October to substantially increase profits in the next few years.

Dan Catchpole: 425-339-3454; dcatchpole@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @dcatchpole.

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