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 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,” Alder said. “That’s what’s happening.”
The news, which was delivered to managers in Everett and to union officials Friday morning, comes as a shock to others because Boeing jet production is set to soar this year.
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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.
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 (IAM), 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.”
Alex Pietsch, director of the state’s Office of Aerospace, agreed.
“Every indication we have is that things are going to continue to grow into the future,” Pietsch said. “We know the 737 MAX is coming, that other new derivatives are coming. We think there will be more work ahead.”
He added that the aerospace-supply chain in the state is “desperate for skilled workers” and said those laid off at Boeing may find jobs there.
Gov. Jay Inslee in a statement said he’s “hopeful that as the 737 MAX program moves closer to production and new derivatives like the 787-10 and 777X are launched, we will see these jobs and many more return to our state.”
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, IAM general vice president and a former president of the local district 751, said work refurbishing 747-8s had ended.
Boeing had also hired heavily on the 777 program in the expectation that increasing the rate to 8.3 jets per month would require more hands, but that went off smoothly, he added.
Another factor, he said, is that the company’s attrition rate has been lower than usual as older workers delayed retirement in a down economy that has reduced savings accounts.
Blondin said the layoffs will be applied according to seniority, and so will affect the newest hires — 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’s six-year contract, signed in 2010, 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 had shrunk by about 600, 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 due to Pentagon budget cuts.
A decade ago, six years of mass layoffs at Boeing had reduced IAM membership in Washington state to a low of less than 15,000.
With more than 10,000 machinists hired in the last three years, the union’s total statewide membership stands now at almost 34,000, with 32,350 of those at Boeing.
At the IAM union hall in Everett on Friday, Paula Roberts, a machinist at Boeing for 27 years, said she had expected the layoffs.
She said she’s seen it before after a new plane is introduced and the company hires extra workers to handle a temporary spike in production.
“We all knew it was coming because when you start to level off, you’ll have all these extra people at some point,” Roberts said.
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.
Dominic Gates: (206) 464-2963 or firstname.lastname@example.org Staff reporter Sarah Freishtat contributed to this story.