A Black manager at Boeing’s Everett jet assembly plant found racist symbols on his desk when he arrived for work Tuesday, prompting Boeing to launch an internal investigation and refer the incident to law enforcement.
Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal reacted with a strongly worded message to all 65,000 employees in his division Wednesday afternoon, expressing “my sadness, disappointment and disgust that anyone at Boeing would do this.”
“Racial discrimination, harassment and acts of intimidation will never be tolerated anywhere within Boeing,” Deal wrote. “I am committed to taking every action possible, including termination, for anyone involved in this incident.”
It’s not the first such recent incident, Deal’s message indicated. He wrote that “in the past few days we dismissed several employees after a thorough investigation found they engaged in behavior that is not consistent with our values.”
His message added, without giving details, that Boeing has taken similar action for other cases in different parts of the company.
A company spokesman said Boeing is withholding details of the symbols left for the manager for purposes of the investigation and to avoid giving whoever did it a platform. Boeing also didn’t disclose the name of the manager or the location of the desk within its massive Everett factory complex.
The incidents at Boeing coincide with the massive protests against systemic racism in American society triggered by repeated instances of police killings of Black people across the country.
In this emotional cauldron, many companies have issued antiracist messages, including Boeing. Four days after George Floyd died under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis, CEO Dave Calhoun sent a message to all company employees condemning racism.
“You can be certain that when unacceptable acts of discrimination happen inside Boeing, the tolerance of this company for the people who engage in them will be precisely zero,” Calhoun wrote. “There is no room in our company for them, and in fact in my short time as your CEO we have already terminated individuals for engaging in that behavior.”
Less than two weeks later, on June 10, Calhoun sent out another all-employee message promising to “redouble our determination to drive out behaviors that violate our values” and citing a number of steps the company would take.
He promised to raise the bar on measures of equity within the company and to be “accountable for clearing that bar.” And he said Boeing would “double the $25 million we have already invested in partnerships that create a range of opportunities for marginalized communities.”
In that second message, Calhoun referred to yet another incident of workplace racism.
“About 10 days ago a Boeing employee made an abusive and harassing racial remark to a colleague in one of our facilities,” Calhoun wrote then. “He was quickly suspended, never returned to the workplace, and is no longer a Boeing employee.”
Boeing as a company, as well as its unions, have had to overcome a history of racism. It didn’t hire a single Black employee until the Second World War required all hands on deck for the war effort. Until then, the company’s Machinists union was officially reserved for “members of the white race.”
And while the official culture of both the company and the union have advanced to proclaim support for full civil rights and equality, clearly the 160,000-strong workforce includes some who don’t accept the new message.
When the International Association of Machinists (IAM) posted an item on Facebook in support of Black Lives Matter on June 16, it drew many comments from members of the union, some supportive and others vociferously dissenting.
On Wednesday, IAM District 751 president Jon Holden called the incident in Everett “appalling.”
“We condemn this behavior and will work to provide a safe, discrimination-free workplace everywhere the IAM represents workers,” Holden said via email.
Deal, in his message Wednesday, wrote that “over the last few weeks the racial inequity our Black teammates face has been top of mind for many of us – and rightfully so.”
“Sadly, race-based harassment, intimidation and discrimination continue to exist in our society,” he said.
Describing the incidents within Boeing as “disheartening and a stark reminder of how far our society has to go,” he asked employees to “respectfully stand up for our values” by speaking up when they witness acts of intimidation or harassment at work and by reporting such behavior.
“I also encourage all of us to listen, learn and talk about the racial inequity and injustice faced by teammates of color,” Deal added.