Hal Fitzgerald found a janitor job at the Everett plant rather than being laid off after completing Boeing's apprentice-machinist program.

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Last summer, Hal Fitzgerald became the 1,000th graduate of Boeing’s apprentice-machinist program, qualified as a highly skilled technician.

But as soon as his five-year program ended, so did his job protection. Lacking seniority, he and the entire graduating apprenticeship class faced the ax.

“I was gone if I didn’t take the initiative,” he said. “I had to do something. I wasn’t going to sit and let them walk me out the door.”

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In the previous six years, more than 50,000 Boeing employees in the state had been laid off. For Fitzgerald, the crunch came just as Boeing finally hit bottom and began hiring again. Longer-term prospects suddenly looked better, but not those in the short term.

Through an unusual mixture of humility and tenacity, he held on by his fingernails and stayed on the Boeing payroll.

Fitzgerald, trained to maintain and repair sophisticated electronic equipment such as the huge computer-controlled drilling rigs that machine aircraft parts from aluminum, scrambled to find a reassignment anywhere in the company and avoid his scheduled layoff last June.

With just days to go, he got one: For the second half of 2004, he put his machinist skills on hold while he vacuumed floors and cleaned toilets in the Everett factory.


Boeing begins
to hire again








Boeing employment in Washington state hit bottom in mid-2004 after six years of declining rolls.




2002

Feb. 71,500

May 66,900

Aug. 64,000

Nov. 62,300


2003

Feb. 59,600

May 57,400

Aug. 55,652

Nov. 54,123


2004

Feb. 53,451

May 52,783

Aug. 52,996

Nov. 54,712


2005

Feb. 56,141

Source: Boeing


As a janitor, he earned $16 an hour — not much more than he would have gotten in unemployment benefits, and half his going rate as an industrial electronic maintenance technician.

“I wasn’t real happy about it,” Fitzgerald said. “The choice was going out the door.”

Staying on the payroll, he kept his medical benefits and continued to accrue retirement benefits.

Machinists union spokeswoman Connie Kelliher said that she personally knew of five or six machinists who’d made the same difficult decision.

Fitzgerald worked as a janitor from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. One morning at summer’s end, he and his wife, Doris, talked about his choice.

Forty-five and Georgia-born, Fitzgerald wore a collar and tie with denim jeans and sneakers and spoke in a semiformal, polite Southern tone.

He was determined, he said, not to have “a bad attitude about taking a downgrade.” He looked at the cleaning job as positively as he could.

“It’s an important job that has to be done,” he said. “My supervisor is very strong about reiterating that, to make sure we don’t feel degraded.”

But still, the janitor’s job was only a temporary strategy. He wanted to stay on the payroll until Boeing turned around and a machinist’s job that suited his new skills became available.

And if it didn’t work, he said, he had a backup plan: He was taking classes to earn a real-estate license. “I’m not going to fall between the cracks,” he said.

Explaining his determination to do well in life, he credited the drive of his wife and their shared evangelical Christian faith.

Doris Fitzgerald, an independent financial consultant, is a member of a small Christian businessperson fellowship that networks over breakfast every Monday morning in Everett. She has a solid income, and the couple own several properties.

The couple clearly could afford a layoff for a while if it came to that. But indolence, forced or otherwise, was nowhere in the plan.

Doris Fitzgerald said she’d love her husband to pursue his realty license and come work with her.

“I’m a loan broker, he’d be a Realtor,” she said. “I already have the connections. It’s a shoo-in.”

Her husband’s ideal, he said, was to find a good Boeing job as a maintenance technician on day shift and then work as a real-estate agent in the evenings.

In the end, his grand strategy and his perseverance paid off.

Last May, Boeing began contacting machinists from the recall list in order of seniority. Since then, 1,577 have been rehired.

In late December, Fitzgerald delivered good news jubilantly over the phone.

“I clean the bathrooms for five more days,” he said.

At the beginning of this year, as Boeing geared up for full production, he upgraded again to the pay grade for which he’s qualified: $32 an hour.

At the Developmental Center across from Boeing Field, where the company does high-level research, he’s now working as an industrial electronic maintenance technician.

With the commute from Everett, he’s not had time to finish the real-estate license. For now, the supplementary career is on hold.

He’s too busy working.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com