On Friday afternoon, Chicago-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing told its employees that it will begin and “a safe and orderly restart of limited operations” at several of its Washington State sites, including some in the Seattle area as early as Monday.
While the country’s biggest plane maker has around 30,000 staff made idle by the closure of its plants, Boeing said that 2,500 of its employees will be needed for certain jobs. To reassure workers still worried about the coronavirus, Boeing said that it would be providing everyone with personal protective equipment including facemasks and that it would be enforcing social distancing rules.
Boeing to work on defense projects
This most recent news comes just five days after Boeing announced that its shutdown to contain the COVID-19 virus could go on indefinitely. Any Boeing employee in the State of Washington who had contracted the coronavirus was told they must either take a vacation, apply for sick leave, or sign up for government unemployment benefits.
Rhe select few employees called back to work will be for defense projects and not commercial airliners. The projects include work on the Navy’s P-8 anti-submarine plane that is built at the Renton factory where Boeing builds the 737 MAX. The other program that Boeing wants to continue work on is the Air Force’s Boeing 767-based KC-46 tanker that is built at the company’s’ facility in Everett, Washington. Boeing is also calling back maintenance workers to look after the grounded 737 MAXs that are stored at its Moses Lake facility.
Boeing faced employee pressure
In its message to employees, Boeing said that it would require what it described as essential labs and support teams to return to work so that the company could resume support for customer needs.
Before Boeing decided to shut down its factories on the 25th of March, the aircraft maker had come under increasing criticism from staff who were worried about the increasing number of their co-workers who were testing positive for the coronavirus.
These fears were then compounded following the COVID-19 death of Elton Washington, a flight-line inspector at the Everett factory. The death of the 27-year Boeing veteran became a tipping point at the Everett plant, where there were 17 other confirmed coronavirus cases as of 22nd of March.
According to an article in the Seattle Times, Boeing is asking for volunteers to return to work, saying:
“There will be new policies and procedures for social distancing and work area cleaning,” the message read. “If you are able to support continued production, please reach out to your manager.”
Boeing’s extra COVID-19 precautions will include:
- Wellness checks at the beginning of every shift.
- Staggered shift start times to reduce employee contact.
- Floor markings and signage to create physical distance.
- Employees working from home if they can.
- Physical distancing in the employee cafeteria and on shuttle buses.
- Hand-washing stations and additional cleaning supplies.
In addition to the above measures, Boeing has insisted that all employees must wear a facemask. Those who do not have one will be provided one by Boeing.
When asked about what he thought of the new safety measures, President of the International Association of Machinists Union, District 751, Jon Holden said that the restart is “certainly positive as long as Boeing can provide a safe workplace,” saying that “social distancing is going to be the toughest part.”
Holden was also keen to point out that any employee, who considered themselves to be high risk or is concerned about elderly family members or people with underlying conditions contracting the disease, had the option to stay home and collect unemployment.
Boeing desperate to get back to work
Already hurting from the Boeing 737 MAX grounding and the cancellation of contracts due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is easy to see why Boeing wants to get back to work as they are losing money hand over fist.
What do you think about Boeing’s decision, is it a good idea to bring people back to work this soon or should they be listening to the Governor’s advice and stay shut until the government deems it is safe to return to work? Please let us know what you think in the comments section.