White-collar union at Boeing files age-bias complaint
The union representing engineers and technical worker has filed charges with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging Boeing’s approach to more than 2,500 layoffs since last year “doubled, tripled, and quadrupled layoff vulnerability for older employees.”
By Seattle Times business staff
The white-collar union at Boeing said Thursday it has filed charges of age discrimination against Boeing with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state’s Human Rights Commission, alleging the company’s approach to more than 2,500 layoffs since last year “doubled, tripled, and quadrupled layoff vulnerability for older employees.”
The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents 25,000 engineers and technical workers in the Puget Sound region and elsewhere, said Boeing engaged in “secret manipulation of the ranking factors” that determine which employees are kept when jobs are moved or restructured, and then “announced a series of work movements and reorganizations to implement the manipulated layoff order.”
Ray Goforth, the union’s executive director, said in a statement that the movement of work “is merely a pretext for the wholesale purge of Boeing’s older workforce.”
Boeing, in an emailed statement, said it “does not discriminate against its employees on any basis.”
“Diversifying our engineering workforce reflects changes in our business and is not related to the age of our employees. We’re disappointed that SPEEA filed this baseless complaint,” the company said.
In an interview, Goforth said Boeing ranks its engineers every year based on their experience and skills. The ranking is roughly the order in which people would be laid off, if layoffs occur.
In 2013, Goforth said, management whistle-blowers came to SPEEA claiming they were told to secretly change the ranking system in a way that would discriminate against older employees. Goforth said SPEEA tried to file grievances against the company but was unable to do so without more proof. In March, Boeing finished the latest rankings and SPEEA analyzed the data.
“The first run at that statistical analysis, we didn’t believe,” Goforth said. “We looked at it and said, ‘This is so grotesquely illegal, we must have made a mistake.’”
He said SPEEA compared the rankings to previous years and commissioned an outside analysis of the data. The conclusion was that the chance of an employee being laid off in their 40s was doubled, in their 50s tripled, and in their 60s quadrupled.
SPEEA has also encouraged individual employees who feel discriminated against to file suits against Boeing with the EEOC, Goforth said.
The company has moved some engineering work from the Puget Sound area in a series of steps since early 2013.
It announced 1,500 IT jobs would be shifted to St. Louis and North Charleston, S.C. In April of this year, it told employees 1,000 engineering jobs supporting in-service airplanes would be relocated to California by the end of 2015, after two similar shifts to California in 2013 that totaled 675 jobs.
And in December, management told employees at its advanced central research-and-development unit, known as Boeing Research & Technology, 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.
Boeing executives have said the changes will lower the company’s costs and create new “centers of excellence” in different fields.
Information from Seattle Times archives was used in this report.