John Rothery said his goodbyes, handed in his badge and walked away from Boeing Co. He had worked on almost every commercial jet model over four decades, from a 707 bristling with military radar in the late 1970s to today's sleek 787 Dreamliner.
The date, Oct. 3, had been circled on Rothery's calendar for more than a year. It was the last time that Boeing would bump up pension pay for Seattle-area factory workers before it froze the plan at month's end, provisions dictated by a deeply unpopular 2014 contract extension. For Rothery, it was the final straw.
“I'll be 64 in November. After 37 years, that's enough,” said Rothery, a tool-and-die maker. “I was working just to build a pension. As of Oct. 31, there's no pension. Why stay?”
The benefit change could hasten a generational shift as Boeing's baby boomers retire, a trend that's also looming for other U.S. manufacturers. The planemaker's most experienced workers are packing up their tools during critical upgrades of its two largest profit-drivers: the 737 and 777 jetliners. About 10,000 mechanics are eligible to retire from the company's Puget Sound manufacturing base alone, and no one knows how many are poised to leave.