Boeing lays off Washington workers; total could be hundreds

EVERETT — Friday was an unseasonably sunny day in Everett, but that probably was little comfort for the hundreds of Boeing workers who were laid off.

Nearly 500 union workers were told they’ll be without jobs in 60 days. A Boeing spokesman declined to say how many non-union workers were laid off. Managers were included in the layoffs.

The cuts are part of a company-wide campaign to slash costs that Boeing executives say is necessary to stay competitive.

While the company faces financial and market challenges, its executives have added to them by repeatedly pledging to boost profits to record highs and rain more cash on shareholders.

Boeing laid off 277 engineers and technical workers represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), including 191 in Everett. It also laid off 217 Machinists union members. Some of the Machinists already had been laid off in March, according to Jon Holden, head of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District Lodge 751, which represents roughly 30,000 Boeing workers around Puget Sound and in Portland.

“I hate to see layoffs,” Holden said. “These jobs are so important for our communities and the aerospace industry” in Washington.

Competitors already are trying to snap up talented engineers and others.

“We’ve been contacted by recruiters for Raytheon, Honda and a third aerospace firm in Palm Beach,” Florida, SPEEA spokesman Bill Dugovich said. He did not know who the Palm Beach recruiter represents.

Lockheed Martin recruiters recently came to the area searching for talented engineers.

“That’s good news for laid-off engineers — and bad news for Boeing,” which trained many of the people laid off Friday, Dugovich said.

Boeing is past the busiest periods for several major development programs: the 737 MAX, 777X and 787-10. So, the layoffs could simply reflect the declining workload, said Scott Hamilton, an aerospace analyst based on Bainbridge Island.

Most of the laid-off SPEEA members work at Boeing Commercial Airplanes: 247 compared to 30 assigned to Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

From SPEEA’s perspective, the layoffs have more to do with promises to shareholders than development schedules, Dugovich said.

The company faces financial headwinds in the next few years. Its top-earning jetliner programs, the 777 and 737, are expected to bring in less profit — for different reasons. Orders for new airplanes have dropped as airlines’ credit cards cool off following a nearly decade-long spending spree.

At the same time, Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg repeatedly has pledged to rain more cash on shareholders and to boost profit to record highs. He and other company executives say that cost-cutting, increasing efficiency, better earnings from the 787 program and cranking up 737 production will offset the financial headwinds.

Chicago-based Boeing has slashed its workforce over the past few years. Company executives in December said they plan to cut jobs in 2017 at about the same pace as last year, when Boeing’s total workforce dropped by nearly 11,000, including about 7,000 jobs cut in the commercial airplane division.

The company continued cutting jobs this year with a new round of buyouts and limited layoffs. So far, the company has trimmed more than 2,000 jobs this year, including about 1,800 buyouts and more than 200 layoffs.

At the end of March, the aerospace giant employed 146,962 people around the world. Nearly half — 70,640 — work in Washington, including more than 35,000 in Everett. The number of Boeing workers in the state has dropped by nearly 9,000 since the end of 2015.

Boeing Commercial Airplanes, based in Renton, is the company’s largest division, and employed 74,196 people as of March 30. That is down from 83,508 at the end of 2015, an 11 percent reduction.

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

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