How Boeing is fighting the skilled labor shortage

Nov 08, 2016

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.

To learn more, read "Boeing's retiring boomers underscore U.S. manufacturing plight" from Crain's Chicago Business.