Last day at Boeing

By Bryan Corliss

Herald Writer

Friday was the last day for 7,000 Boeing workers, the first of as many as 30,000 who could lose their jobs in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Commercial Airplanes chief Alan Mulally apologized to workers, and warned it will likely be 2004 before the company starts hiring in serious numbers again.

His message to the laid-off workers "starts with ‘I’m sorry’ and it ends with ‘I’m sorry,’" he said Friday, following an appearance on a Seattle radio talk show. "I wish this wasn’t happening to all of us."

Sorry wasn’t cutting it with some.

Employment cuts

12,000 Friday Boeing-wide

7,000 around Puget Sound

5,000 layoffs (3,500 IAM, 400 SPEEA, 1,000 non-union)

2,000 jobs cut through attrition, retirements and release of contract labor

2,900 jobs to be cut in January

Dec. 21: Next round of layoff notices

"It’s how Boeing’s ‘Grinch Stole Christmas,’ " said Sean Golden, a mechanic on 767s. "My kids are going to wake up and there are no presents under the tree and we’re eating macaroni and cheese because I’ve got to pay the damn water bill."

Added Sven Aasland, a 747 mechanic who’s getting bumped from day shift to night work as a result of the layoffs: "I wish I could tell you how I really feel. But it probably would be all dots and dashes in that paper of yours."

The atmosphere at the Everett factory was "very moody" Friday, said Nancy Westfall, who works in the tool room. A number of people from her group were let go, she said, including some single mothers and people with as much as 12 years’ seniority.

Westfall herself has been with the company 13 years. She expects to get her 60-day layoff notice when the next rounds of cuts are announced next week.

The cuts fell hardest among second-shift workers in Everett, who in general have less seniority. A number of them don’t qualify for the severance packages Boeing is offering because they took severance buy-outs during the last layoffs in 1999 and were only recently called back to work.

Golden is one. He returned to work at Boeing Sept. 6.

Besides not getting severance pay, "we can’t get full unemployment," he said. "We haven’t been back here long enough. We’re lucky to get $100 a month."

Unions have been sharply critical of Boeing’s decision not to bring more work back in-house, thus preserving more jobs in the company.

"In these patriotic times after Sept. 11, how can you justify saving foreign jobs rather than American jobs?" asked David Clay, an Everett Machinist’s union activist who called Mulally during the radio show.

Mulally defended the decision. Buying foreign-built parts is "absolutely key to our success in selling airplanes around the world," he said.

During the last round of layoffs, Boeing did take away work from suppliers, he said. Many of them failed as a result. And when orders turned around a few years later, those suppliers weren’t there to make the parts Boeing needed, Mulally said.

Boeing’s overseas units also are being hit by layoffs, Mulally said, citing the design center in Moscow, Russia, in particular. So are key domestic suppliers such as Goodrich.

Some workers believe Boeing is exploiting the Sept. 11 attacks to impose previously planned job cuts.

"I feel that way," said John Jorgensen, an interiors installer and Machinists union steward. "They must have known there were going to be problems."

Boeing was looking at layoffs before the attacks, Mulally acknowledged. "That is true, in respect to the fact that the economy was slowing down."

But "two-thirds to three-quarters of it is because of the events of Sept. 11," he added.

Not all workers were critical of Boeing. Production inspector Bill Corchoran said "spirits are up good" in his group.

"I’ve got to hand it to most of the people I’ve talked to, who’ve got layoff notices," he said. "They’re positive about it."

When the market turns, Boeing will move quickly to start recalling workers, Mulally said. But that’s going to take a while, he told reporters. Air travel may start to rebound in 2003, which would mean airlines would start ordering planes again in 2004.

In the meantime, Mulally encouraged the laid-off workers to take advantage of job retraining.

"This is a really important thing for us to do everything we can," he said. "We want a lot of the employees back when Boeing comes back, and if they don’t come back they’re still going to be part of our community."

P.A. Keophilavanh, a second-shift electrical shop mechanic laid off Friday, plans to do that. "I haven’t studied in 17 years," he joked, but he’ll use his benefits to pay for courses for an associate’s degree, which will be the first step to a four-year degree — and maybe another job at Boeing.

In the meantime, he had one last shift to work Friday night. "You go in, say hi to all your friends and say goodbye," said the Mountlake Terrace man, who was also laid off in 1999.

He said he’d made a deal with his supervisor. "I worked hard yesterday," Keophilavanh said. "He’ll let me go early tonight."

You can call Herald Writer Bryan Corliss at 425-339-3454

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