Boeing workers delay production over Covid-19 fears

By Bryan Corliss

March 20, 2020, © Leeham News: Sources close to Boeing tell Leeham News & Analysis that Machinists Union members in Puget Sound have shut down production on several occasions this week over fears that the corona virus had made their work stations unsafe.

According to two insiders, workers at sites across Puget Sound are invoking Article 16 of the IAM’s contract with Boeing, which is commonly known as the “Imminent Danger Clause.” It gives workers the ability to shut down work in their area if they have a reasonable concern that they’re working under conditions likely to cause death or serious injury.

Boeing management has been responsive, the insiders said, quickly bringing in environmental health and safety experts to perform assessments and order extensive cleaning in areas where potentially infected people may have worked.

But it’s reasonable to assume that these temporary shutdowns for cleaning will lead to further delays in production, and that they will increase in frequency as the pandemic spreads – particularly after the union sent a reminder to its stewards about the safety language in their contract.

‘Pull the red card’

IAM District Lodge 751 in Seattle sent the message Wednesday night, reminding stewards that they and their members have the ability to bring work to a halt if they feel conditions are unsafe.

“It is appropriate to utilize the structure (of the) contractual Article 16 ‘Imminent Danger Stop Work’ clause to ensure the area is made safe before work can proceed,” the message to stewards said.

Informally, the message from union leadership is “if you don’t think it’s safe, pull the red card,” one insider said. (The union distributes red-colored cards to members with instructions on how to invoke their Article 16 contract right.)

The cleaning is done by IAM-represented janitorial staff. The union said it has demanded that they receive adequate training and full protective equipment before they’re assigned to potential Covid-19 clean-ups.

“These members should consider using Tyvek suits or coveralls, masks, gloves and eye protection to make them feel comfortable in the workplace,” the email to stewards said. “Although the company says use of masks is not required when deep cleaning these areas, if you feel more comfortable with a mask, we recommend you request it.”

Boeing’s Puget Sound factories are scattered throughout the United States’ original corona virus hot spot. America’s first confirmed case of Covid-19 was a man in Everett, who recovered. The first deaths were in Kirkland, WA, which is just 20 miles away. As of Thursday night, 74 Washington state residents had died from the virus – more than a third of the nation’s total.

As Covid-19 has spread through the Boeing workforce – on Tuesday, the company confirmed there were nine cases among Puget Sound workers, out of 11 cases companywide – there has been increasing tension among the company’s employees. While administrators, supply chain managers and some engineers and office workers can telecommute, you simply can’t build an airplane from home.

Risk life? Or livelihood?

Among hourly workers, there’s said to be a split between those who are afraid of coming to work — who are demanding a factory shutdown — and those who are panicked at the idea of losing paychecks, so they’re  pleading for their workplaces to stay open.

At the union’s urging, Boeing has agreed to allow workers to take unpaid leaves of absence if they’re afraid of getting infected, or if they are facing child-care issues now that all Washington schools have been closed by order of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. (Previously, there were significant restrictions on unpaid leave, and people who didn’t show up to work were fired.)

In its note to stewards, IAM 751 said it was lobbying for Boeing to provide masks to workers who aren’t able to get six feet away from their nearest co-workers. There are perhaps thousands of workers who would fall into this category, particularly in final assembly, but also in areas like the Everett wiring shop, where workers sit around tables stringing miles of wire through brackets.

Union leadership seems to be focused on keeping the workplace safe for those who want to come to work, while making it possible for others to stay home without getting fired, one insider said.

Boeing has committed to thoroughly cleaning areas where the people with confirmed cases worked, as well as the work areas of people who came in contact with them, the union told stewards. It also has stepped up disinfecting of areas around the factories, including hand rails, door knobs, elevator buttons, flat surfaces in cafeterias and other high-touch surfaces.

The company and union both are encouraging workers to wash their hands and maintain six feet of distance from other people as much as possible.

18 Comments on “Boeing workers delay production over Covid-19 fears

  1. Hysteria …
    Is the great danger . An economic collapse is imminent , if we do not get back to working and spending . Millions of livelihoods are at stake !

    • Hysteria, fueled by the media and scared politicians. It’s a new, bad, strain of flu that would have gone unnoticed 40 years ago. People would have said “seasonal flu is bad this year”, and the world would have continued to work and play.

      Maybe it even happened 40 years ago.

    • I guess you’re the expert in this and you’re gonna be one of the ones that are spreading this ship to everybody else tag in the economy

      • This is not the flu, and there is a balance.

        My take is the Union is doing a good job of balance vs the safety of the union members. Boeing has a legitimate production interest but also a worker safety interest (or should) where the Union focuses on the workers with an understanding of Boeing need to remain viable (far more than management ever did acualy)

        Working it out as they are is the right answer.

        • CORVID-19 has in common with influenza that both are a mutation from earlier strains, are infectious before you feel sick, and are of high risk to people with lung problems or reduced body reserves (very common in elderly people, that and close contact make care residences susceptible).

          Questions include whether CORVID-19 is more contagious than typical influenza and than the worst strains of influenza. CORVID-19 is not as dangerous to young children as influenza, but they may infect others.

          The problem in Kirkland WA was caused by a celebration event in which many residents of a care facility and many visitors congregated, so the disease was spread to quite a few people. (Many visitors will be elderly friends and siblings.)

          Dukeofurl makes a good point that there isn’t a vaccine against CORVID-19 whereas there is partial vaccine coverage against influenza. (I added ‘partial’ because influenza vaccine only covers the 3 or 4 strains forecast long ahead to be active in a region – last season one strain active late in the Victoria BC area was not affected by the vaccine, and is not effective for some people. (66% was a value publicized for the other of two A strains active late in the season, but the value for older people is probably much less according to the theory that older people do not react as strongly to vaccine so don’t build as much resistance to the strains. High-strength vaccine is now available when governments get their act together for production – a frequent problem in Canada, but only covers three strains. 130 people died from influenza in Canada in the 2017-2018 season, which is

    • One look at the busy ICU in a northern Italian hospital might change your mind…

      • Did you know that at Jan 6 this year the CDC had said the 2019/20 ‘flu season’ ( from October) had so far killed around 2000 people.

        The 2017/18 season was a monster in US at around 4000 per week and ‘estimates’ of 61,000 deaths. No it wasnt a ‘novel’ strain of flu.

        Of course there were flu vaccines available for this – the death rate may have been higher- and understandably fear of caching something that will kill does mean ‘the herd acts differently’ now.

        • Flu death present as a statistic floor raised in winter times.
          corona infections and resultant death present as exponentially developing curves. Plot them logscale and you get straight gradients.
          Infections: the US exponent stepped up quite a bit 4..5 days ago while most other nations are in decline ( exponent wise, not absolute numbers).
          I expect the US numbers to overtake Italian infections by next Wednesday.

  2. On the other side of Atlantic Ocean, Airbus shut down all assembly lines for three days in order to sanitize all workstations and offices, and to set up (as much as possible) a work organisation in line with healthcare prevention recommendation.
    Production should re-start on Monday… if more restrictive confinement measures are not taken by governments before..

  3. Airlines don’t want planes they can’t fly, don’t have cash to pay on delivery,Boeing short of cash to pay workers. Is it time to slow down the supply chain and reduce production? How many suppliers are affected by state/local orders to stay home? If workers are worried how will that affect quality?

    • That is going to work itself through the system.

      Deliveries are delayed and all production may shut down for a time.

      The immediate issue is to keep workers as safe as possible without using it as a club and I don’t see the Union coming anywhere close to it.

      I have been in a safety situation that the affected workr invoked the Steward as the Manager was attempting to force him into an unsafe rig (and he had done others) – he tried to fire the guy but you can’t do that without a Steward present.

      Said Steward was called, went over the 6 safety issues including a broken seat propped up by a soda can, a shifter with the knob off as two lethal issue )

      They could have shut the job down. Instead the Steward had a one on one talk with the Foreman. He told him, you are so wrong, all 6 are true issues, you can fire this man, but the job shuts down, we inspect the whole fleet of 60 trucks, we will find more and we will hold it to the limits of the contract in doing so.

      I recommend you shut up, recind the firing, get that damned truck fixed, and its a done deal from our standpoint.

      And that is how it was done. Good call, the issue was a single junker truck they had been making people drive when their truck was broke down. I had refused but did not know how to handle it right but the guy who did and I had been talking and he did know.

      No one was hurt of killed fortunately, it got corrected and the job kept moving.

    • Anyone who has been on a boat when someone is chundering will know that the 2 metre rule is BS. Unfortunately this is about risk reduction rather than risk prevention.

  4. There is not one ounce of truth to this artical, at no time in the Everett plant has any empolyee or employees invoked artical 16 period.

    Dose the press have everyone scared, yes your dame right we are all scared, whoe isnt. But we go to work everyday and we all proudly due our jobs.

  5. Its a tool in making sure things don’t get ignored or people pushed aside.

    Some Managers are clowns or worse and need to be aware they can get brought up short by a legitimate concern. Does not mean any miner thing is the sky is falling.

    But also now, miner things should be looked at and addressed and agreed its not an issue or it can be one and corrected. Ideally that is how it works.

    Cowering workers are not what its supposed to be about.

  6. boeing up to 20 confirmed 1200+ out do to illness/close contact with possible infected. this is in WA state alone, most in the Everett factory. Boeing is NOT sanitizing nor disinfecting most areas that were affected, they are not even letting the shift that follows know that whole teams got sent home the night before. We no longer have access to hand sanitizer nor disinfectant spray/wipes. Does someone have to die before they take is seriously? ambulances running through the factory as many as 4 x a shift. People calling to say they are sick and being tested prior to start of shift, managers not letting the teams know until end of shift. Hell yes people are scared, and if we didn’t know we were just a replaceable # before –we sure do now.

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