Published October 18, 2017 in The Seattle Times
By Dominic Gates
Seattle Times aerospace reporter
Boeing has been shedding jobs for five straight years in the Puget Sound region, but this year the cuts seem to have gone too far.
Now the jetmaker finds it’s short of people and is scrambling to entice some 500 to 800 retirees back on a temporary basis.
And to abide by union agreements, workers who have been laid off in the required job classifications will have to be hired back ahead of any retirees returning to the same jobs.
It’s unclear if this could be a definitive turn in the downsizing tide that began to swell in the fall of 2012 and has since then swept away 20,400 Boeing jobs in the state.
The company signed an agreement with the Machinists union on Friday setting the terms by which it can hire back retirees on a temporary basis for up to six months.
To lure the retired Machinists back to work, Boeing is taking the unusual step of paying bonuses.
Jon Holden, International Association of Machinists (IAM) District 751 president, said the company approached the union asking for help in hiring people back right away to help with immediate needs.
The retirees will begin returning to the factory floor as early as this Friday.
“I cannot explain the decisions they make as to why they cut so deep and now they are in a rush to hire people back,” said Holden.
Boeing is also talking to the engineering union about bringing back some of its former members on a contract basis.
“Clearly, they let too many people go,” said Bill Dugovich, a spokesman for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA).
Boeing said the experienced former employees are being brought back to train new hires for permanent positions that are now open.
“We are doing some modest hiring across manufacturing skills and contacting recently retired mechanics with certain skills,” said Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman. “Bringing in experienced mechanics will allow us to hire and train new employees during this period.”
Still, Boeing won’t say whether the employment cycle has reached its trough and might begin to swing upward.
Bergman said the varying needs in the factories across the region mean “employment increases in some areas and reductions in others.”
“It’s hiring,” he said. “That’s positive.”
The overall target of up to 800 re-hires — both engineers and machinists, though likely more of the latter — was cited by management in discussions with SPEEA officials.
Bergman said the re-hiring is needed “to help meet near-term airplane production requirements.”
Two people with knowledge of the situation in the factories said that in Everett the 767 Air Force tanker program is running way behind, as is the 777 program, which is in the midst of a manufacturing transformation to prepare for the new 777X jet.
And one person said that in Renton too, assembly of the 737 also needs more bodies to cope with the higher production rate, increased this year to 47 jets per month.
Holden welcomed the jobs boost, though he doesn’t know how long it will last.
“Anytime we see people brought back, that’s good news. Anytime we see the company open up requirements to hire additional permanent people, that’s good news, Holden said. “But is this the end? Are we past the cutting of jobs? I don’t know. I hope so.”
Because the union doesn’t want to encourage the hiring of temporary workers and needs to protect the interests of its current members, the agreement with the IAM imposes restrictions on the temporary hiring.
For any open jobs, people who have been laid off from those jobs, or current employees who are awaiting transfer from other areas to those jobs, must be hired before any retirees.
And the temporary hires can stay a maximum of 180 days.
To entice back to work these experienced, highly skilled Machinists who are now retired with substantial Boeing pensions, the company has agreed that they will continue to receive their pension payments on top of their wages.
The agreement with the union states that this will be the arrangement in future for any retiree who comes back to work, whether permanently or temporarily.
And when these rehired Machinists leave, Boeing will pay an additional $500 bonus for every full month that they work, up to $3,000 if they work the full six months.
On the blue collar side, Boeing is targeting assemblers, electricians and aviation maintenance technicians who will work on all the commercial airplane programs primarily in Renton and Everett, and some in Auburn.
Like the Machinists, SPEEA has a priority recall list; in its case that list includes over 200 of its members who were laid off involuntarily. These would have to be hired back for any jobs in their skill area before retirees could fill those positions.