Boeing plans to lay off 800 machinists


Updated: March 22, 2013, 4:30 PM


Local angle

Boeing is a major contributor to Washington’s aerospace industry, which employs some 80,000 workers. Boeing also operates a parts plant in Gresham, Ore., which employs Clark County residents. Insitu, a Boeing subsidiary and drone maker, is headquartered in Bingen.

Boeing said Friday it will lay off some 800 machinists by the end of this year as workforce needs on its newest jet programs, the 787 Dreamliner and 747-8 jumbo jet, are reduced.

Company spokesman Doug Alder said that other reductions will be made through attrition so that the total number of positions cut this year will be between 2,000 and 2,300.

“We always expected employment requirements would come down on these programs after we stabilized production,” said Alder. “That’s what’s happening.”

The news, which was delivered to managers in Everett and to union officials Friday morning, comes as a shock because Boeing jet production is set to soar this year.

The 787 production rate is planned to double from five jets per month to 10 per month by year end.

Alder said the cuts are not related to the current grounding of the 787 due to problems with its battery system.

The layoffs will affect chiefly employees who refurbish and do modifications on jets that have rolled off the assembly line in need of rework, he said.

Boeing has several thousand employees working at what’s called the Everett Modification Center, a former supplier building at the south end of Paine Field in Everett.

The cuts come even though the 787 jet modifications performed there are expected to continue into early 2014.

Connie Kelliher, spokeswoman for the International Association of Machinists, in a statement sought to downplay the significance of the cuts.

“This is not the start of a Boeing down cycle,” Kelliher said. “Unlike past layoffs, there are no production rate decreases on any airplane line. Production rates remain high, and there is a seven-year backlog.”

Alder said the planned 737 and 787 production increases will go ahead but that “we feel like we have the appropriate amount of workforce in place so production continues as normal and 787 continues to its goal of 10 per month by year end.”

Mark Blondin, national aerospace coordinator for the International Association of Machinists, or IAM, and a former president of the local district 751, said that Boeing had hired heavily on the 777 program in the expectation that increasing the rate to 8.3 jets per month would require more hands, but in fact that rate break went off smoothly.

In addition, he said, the company’s attrition rate has been lower than normal as older workers put off retirement in a down economy that has gutted savings accounts.

Blondin said the layoffs will be applied according to seniority, and so will affect the newest hires of mostly younger workers.

“A lot of those are new to the Machinist union and new to Boeing,” he said. “It’s a big deal to every one of those families.”

He said the union contract ensures that those laid off will have first right of return when jobs come back. “There will be openings come up again,” Blondin said.

Boeing employment in Washington state most recently peaked in November at just shy of 86,800.

At the end of February that number was already reduced by about 600 people, to 86,200.

Some of that prior reduction, which included no layoffs of Machinist union members, was on the defense side, which has been shrinking because of Pentagon budget cuts.

A decade ago, six years of mass layoffs at Boeing had slashed IAM membership in Washington state to a low of less than 15,000.

With more than 10,000 machinists hired in the past three years, the total stands today at more than 30,000.

The IAM agreed to its latest contract with Boeing in fall 2010, an agreement that runs through the fall of 2016.

Alder said Boeing’s 787 assembly complex in North Charleston, S.C., will also reduce its workforce by “hundreds” this year, though in that state the people let go will be long-term contract employees.