Internal documents show dip in morale at Boeing

Job transfer plans said to fuel discontent, confusion

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SEATTLE — Boeing Co.'s December disclosure that it will transfer about 1,000 research engineering jobs out of Washington has sown widespread internal dissent, distrust and confusion, according to internal employee feedback gathered by company managers.

The major realignment of Boeing Research & Technology, or BR&T, has prompted those managers to warn that Boeing could lose top talent as both veteran and early-career engineers, some with security clearances for defense work, scramble to hunt for jobs elsewhere.

Meanwhile, managers within the Commercial Airplanes division — who depend upon technical support from BR&T engineering labs — are "telling their executives how this repositioning is going to be disastrous," according to one document.

In a weekly series of internal meetings since the beginning of the year, Boeing's leadership has been gathering feedback from about 50 BR&T ground-level managers on how the "repositioning" is going.

The official summary notes from those meetings, reviewed by The Seattle Times, show the feedback is unrelentingly negative.

"Employees feel betrayed, upset," said one manager in a January meeting. "Almost on a daily basis, we continue to see morale erode away," said another in February.

"More and more negativity — people out looking for jobs," reported one Flight and Systems Technologies sub-unit manager in March. "Negativity is spreading throughout the team — numerous people — not just a few."

Boeing spokesman Tom Koehler said the notes are from meetings intended to provide constructive feedback.

"Our leadership team welcomes it, because it is candid, it's unvarnished," said Koehler. "We appreciate the active dialogue.

"We know that these changes are not easy," he added. "But we believe they are necessary to enhance Boeing's ability to provide effective and efficient technology solutions."

Ray Goforth, executive director of Boeing's white-collar union, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, said the documents show BR&T's leadership is struggling to convince employees Boeing has a sound business case for moving the work.

"According to the company's own documents, no one in the workforce, management or labor, is believing what they are being told," said Goforth. "And it seems to be having a very detrimental effect upon the company."

The transfer of the BR&T jobs is just one in a series of moves of Boeing engineering work from Washington's Puget Sound area.

A year ago, Boeing announced it was moving 1,500 IT jobs to St. Louis and North Charleston, S.C.

This month, it said it will shift 1,000 engineering jobs supporting in-service airplanes to California by the end of 2015, after two similar shifts to California last summer that totaled 675 jobs.

BR&T is Boeing's advanced central research-and-development unit, with more than half its 4,000 engineers and technical staff based in the Puget Sound region.

Providing support to Boeing's commercial, military and space units, BR&T engineers run labs that test loads on airplane parts or the performance of electronic systems. They also research breakthrough technologies for the creation of new products.

In a December webcast, management told employees that about 1,000 jobs — roughly half the BR&T jobs here — will be moved by the end of 2015 to new technology research centers in Huntsville, Ala.; St. Louis; and North Charleston.

Most of the local staff whose jobs will move are not expected to be offered positions at the new centers, where jobs are being reposted at lower-paid grade levels.

Soon after Boeing announced the plan, one manager at a Jan. 6 meeting listed the emotions shown by employees as "shock, disbelief, confusion, frustration, disappointment."

The BR&T staff were not given any specifics in December as to who would go and who would stay. Four months later, they know little more.

The company said last month it will offer voluntary buyouts with up to 26 weeks of pay for some employees, but more details will not be available until May.

BR&T Vice President Greg Hyslop has provided only a high-level explanation of the strategy.

The reorganization will "better meet the needs of our Commercial Airplanes and Defense, Space & Security business units, as well as our government R&D customers," Hyslop told employees in December. "We are enhancing our ability to provide effective, efficient and innovative technology solutions."

The feedback documented by managers shows that the lack of additional detail on what will happen to individual employees created frustration, and that engineers weren't buying the stated reasons for the move.