Boeing CEO Jim McNerney apologized Friday in a companywide message for telling analysts this week that he won’t retire after turning 65 next month because “the heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering.”

McNerney’s message called the remark, made Wednesday at the end of a conference call about the company’s quarterly results, “a joke gone bad.”

The comment incensed many workers, and the company’s unions were quick to pounce on it.

Machinists union international President Tom Buffenbarger issued a statement Friday decrying the “unfunny and unnecessary remarks” as a “reminder that the Jack Welch style of anti-personnel management is still alive and well at Boeing.”

“If he is able to get his foot out of his mouth, the very next thing we hear from Mr. McNerney should be a sincere apology to all employees at Boeing,” Buffenbarger said.

Jon Holden, president of Machinists’ District 751, described it as “a new low” in relations between Boeing and its workers.

Not to be outdone, the union of white-collar employees at Boeing posted on its website a foldable poster that depicted a middle-aged guy peering over the edge of a desk or cubicle with the caption, “If I’m away from my desk, then I must be cowering somewhere. Please leave a note.” At the bottom, alongside the logo of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, it says in small type, “Employees have the right (under federal law) to put union material in their work area.”

Boeing spokesman John Dern said McNerney had earlier communicated directly with some employees who were upset by his comment, and then posted the message for the entire workforce. He said McNerney’s message went out before the Machinists called for him to apologize.

McNerney’s message says in part, “I was simply trying to make light of my age and tenure at the company on a question that I have been asked at least a dozen times over the past several weeks alone … There was no intent to slight anyone but myself, and the last thing on my mind was to characterize my relationship with Boeing employees in any negative way.”

It continues: “I should have used different words, and I apologize for them. I will definitely be more careful going forward.”