SPEEA, Boeing at impasse over safety program, union says

By Scott Hamilton

 April 23, 2024, © Leeham News: Boeing and its engineers/technicians union, the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) are at an impasse over the proposed creation of a safety program widely used by airlines and other companies, the union says.

The Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) is already in use by Boeing for flight testing. And the touch-labor union, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) District 751 and Boeing recently adopted an ASAP that is in its early stages of implementation.

ASAP is a program, used across the airline and aerospace industries, by which employees may pass safety concerns to the regulators, in this case, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), without fear of retaliation or retribution.

“The ASAP program was designed for FAA-certified airmen—pilots, mechanics, dispatchers,” said a former Boeing employee whose duties at one time included safety. “In the airline world, nothing gets pre-screened. For a reason! The ASAP program is set up for Boeing flight tests. Production pilots at Boeing operate this way.”

“We have offered SPEEA the same agreement we signed with the IAM and the FAA to strengthen safety, quality, and compliance,” a Boeing spokesperson said in an email to LNA. “We believe it will make a difference in ensuring product safety. This tri-party agreement is modeled after the longstanding and proven Aviation Safety Action Program (ASAP) which is used in the airlines and elsewhere in Boeing.”

The impasse

“We are ready to move forward on an agreement that is working with the IAM. We encourage SPEEA leadership to engage with us in good faith to address the collective challenges of our company and our engineers. We remain open to productive conversations on how we can implement the proven industry-standard and best-practice agreement that empowers all SPEEA members to speak up,” the spokesperson wrote.

SPEEA proposed expanding the IAM program to its entire engineering and technician workforce. SPEEA represents workers in the greater Seattle area (Puget Sound), Portland (OR), and at Spirit AeroSystems in Wichita (KS).

Spirit builds the Boeing 737 fuselages and nose sections for Boeing’s 767 freighter, KC-46A refueling tanker, 777 and 787. Spirit was part of Boeing from pre-World War II until 2006 when it was spun off to a Canadian private equity group. Boeing and Spirit are in talks for the former to acquire Spirit.

Executive director Ray Goforth said the impasse is over Boeing’s insistence that it control the information flow to a tri-party panel that consists of Boeing, SPEEA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). SPEEA wants information to flow directly to the panel, without Boeing’s filtering it. The FAA representative is sympathetic to SPEEA’s position, says Rich Plunkett, Director of Strategic Development and SPEEA’s lead on the project.

The FAA did not respond to a request for comments. Boeing did not respond specifically to this concern.

Consistent with the agreement Boeing has with the IAM, items escalated to the tri-party review committee would include reports on both design and manufacturing that involve SPEEA-represented employees and are within the FAA’s compliance jurisdiction. All Boeing employees, including SPEEA-represented employees, can raise concerns through the Speak Up confidential reporting system,  Boeing said on background.

Boeing’s labor relations takes the lead—not the safety unit

Although the ASAP is a safety process, SPEEA is dealing with three members of Boeing’s labor relations department—not Mike Delaney, the corporation’s chief aerospace safety officer and senior vice president of Global Aerospace Safety, or his representatives.

“Delaney is responsible for strengthening the safety practices and culture at Boeing and advancing the company’s comprehensive Global Aviation Safety strategy, including integrated responsibility for Product & Services Safety, Aerospace Safety Analytics, and Global Aviation Safety System. Delaney is accountable to the Aerospace Safety Committee of the Boeing Board of Directors,” it says on his official executive biography on Boeing’s website. But Boeing’s labor department is SPEEA’s contact.

SPEEA views the labor relations representatives rather than safety experts as inhibiting the process. However, the ASAP negotiated with the IAM 751 was with Boeing’s labor relations. Boeing took the IAM agreement, crossed out IAM, inserted SPEEA, and offered this as the contract. SPEEA rejected this, saying that engineers and technicians are involved in design and assembly processes far sooner than the touch-labor union. But SPEEA’s Plunkett sees Boeing’s labor relations involvement as part of a decades-long union containment effort.

Figure 1. SPEEA sees Boeing’s involvement of its labor relations personnel in a safety matter as an extension of union containment. Figures 1 and 2 are from a Boeing Power Point dated 2017. Source: SPEEA.



More than 1,300 companies, unions, and individuals participate in the ASAP, according to a list compiled by the FAA. Included are Boeing’s own Executive Flight Operations, and Test and Evaluation unit. The IAM agreement is not yet on the FAA list.


The IAM 751 reached an agreement for its ASAP with Boeing’s labor relations department. The union first proposed establishing an ASAP in 2019, said union president Jon Holden. After three years of off-and-on negotiation, Boeing and 751 adopted the ASAP in 2022.

“When the company started to remove inspections through verification optimization, we demanded to bargain to try and stop it,” Holden said in an interview with LNA last week. “Our view was that this was a bad idea. This undermines the strength and the health of the manufacturing system.

“Ultimately, they weren’t listening to us, so we contacted the FAA. We hadn’t previously had a relationship with the FAA in the past. Speaking with the FAA, they suggested, and they share information on an ASAP program. They shared with us documents of other agreements with other airlines,” Holden said.

Holden said this ASAP was the first one within the aerospace manufacturing structure or infrastructure. The proposal to Boeing was a tri-party agreement, with visibility for the FAA, the IAM, and Boeing.

“We’d all be working together and solving issues,” Holden said. “It took several years. We got it in place in June of 2023 after negotiations. All three parties worked to negotiate this. We’re working through it. It’s not perfect, but it does allow visibility and the ability for us to address issues.”

Figure 2. The Boeing labor strategy, outlined in part in Figure 2, appeared on the Boeing South Carolina website, since removed. The Boeing facilities in Charleston (SC) are non-union. Source: SPEEA.

















Process and Procedure

The process works like this: A 751 member might file a Speak Up report. This is the name of Boeing’s internal process designed to promote information flow about safety issues. Many employees, and the union leadership of 751 and SPEEA, say Speak Up doesn’t protect the members from retaliation. Boeing says retaliation or retribution aren’t tolerated, but the unions claim there is evidence that this occurs anyway.

In any event, Speak Up is the tool that’s used for the ASAP agreed with the IAM.  Reports come in, evaluated, and “triaged.”

“We have a right to see all of the reports that come in, but there are things that aren’t going to go there,” Holden said. “If someone’s complaining about their individual treatment from a manager or with a co-worker or, something unrelated to the airworthiness of the aircraft or the build process infrastructure of our system, it might go to a different entity within Boeing.

“If it’s a safety concern, we already have a very robust safety process to address hazards to our health, whether it be things that will lead to work-related injuries or illnesses. We have a very robust system, so we’re not trying to take over those systems.”

Holden said the process is a contract with Boeing, outside of the traditional labor contract. Other events wouldn’t come through to the ASAP, to the Tri-Party ERC (Event Review Committee).

“It’s meant to address if somebody does something wrong or if there’s a change to a policy procedure that we perceive as putting the system in jeopardy, those things can be brought forth and evaluated,” Holden said.

Employee protections

Employee protections are built into the ASAP to provide a safe environment for reporting events. Airlines, for example, have a process with the FAA under which pilots, mechanics, flight attendants, etc., can report their own mistakes or safety concerns without fear of penalty. (An exception: flight crews reporting mental health issues. Pilots are loath to report they are having mental stress, depression, or other issues for fear of losing their license. The FAA is working to revise this system.)

Holden said that even though it’s been several months since adoption, “we’ve got to advertise it. We’ve got to get members to have confidence that they can do these things or use this system. That takes time.”

What’s Holden’s view of the progress under ASAP?

“I feel that an ASAP program within manufacturing can be successful. And I want to make it work. I want to provide opportunities for our members and for the FAA to have visibility over things that are important and maintain the integrity of the manufacturing infrastructure.”

SPEEA proposed ASAP Jan. 31

SPEEA first proposed the ASAP on Jan. 31, less than a month after the Jan. 5 accident on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282. An emergency exit door plug blew off the 737-9 MAX at 16,000 ft in an explosive decompression. Investigators determined that four bolts holding the plug in place were not reinstalled during final assembly by Boeing at the Renton (WA) plant.

Boeing’s adherence to safety and procedures announced after the 2018-19 MAX accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia have been under a microscope since the Alaska accident. Nobody died, but several passengers were injured, and the cabin was damaged throughout the airplane.

Although it’s only been a few months since SPEEA first proposed adopting the ASAP, an impasse has already emerged, says Plunkett.

“It used to be we had this constant and continual interchange between design engineers and post-production. They each learned from each other. They went back and forth all the time. That synergy is gone. Boeing insists upon union containment, preventing interaction. Through the ASAP, we think it has to be there,” Plunkett says.

“Why wouldn’t we get the purview of Speak Ups associated with anything regulated by Federal Air Regulations or the FAA? We’ve got example after example after example. Boeing, alternatively, the polar opposite of us, has yet to cite a specific rationale for their union containment language that they continue to push on the ASAP program.”

“Boeing wants total control”

Plunkett claims Boeing wants to be in total control of what it is the tri-party ERC sees. He says the FAA agrees with SPEEA. “This should be very robust and leave it to the ERC to figure it out. The ERC is under strict confidentiality.” Boeing did not comment.

Goforth says the impasse is “Boeing’s insistence that they get to decide what people are allowed to report. They have a very constrained view of what that is, and that all the reports have to go through their system. They will determine which reports require follow-up.

“We’re saying, no, no, no. Our people get involved from the design discussions all the way to the production, and we need a broad funnel. We think that it should be the three stakeholders, Boeing, the FAA, and SPEEA, that determine which issues are significant enough that they should be investigated. There should be further processing of. So that seems to be the impasse. Boeing wants to squish everything through their own system that they completely control, and we’re saying no, no, no,” Goforth says.

Goforth said Boeing’s tight control has been a long-term issue. “Boeing decides what’s important to pay attention to. The whole world’s seen that now—” a reference to the quality control issues on the MAX, 787 and, allegedly, the 777.

“We need something that’s broader. There should be ideally a consensus, at least a vote of two or three parties, on which issues are important enough to proceed with. Boeing has no patience for any of that,” Goforth says.



20 Comments on “SPEEA, Boeing at impasse over safety program, union says

  1. Just read a really interesting article on McDonald Douglas on their failed attempt to create a big twin engine aircraft from their tri engine DC-10.
    What stood out for me was that a paragraph “It is incredible to think between 1968 and its merger with Boeing in 1997 MDC only launched ONE new aircraft – the DC-10. And in the same time frame, it only won TWO new military contracts with its own designs – the F-15 Eagle and the C-17.”
    In my opinion, a striking parallel with Boeing problems today.
    If you have the time, an article well worth reading, a history of MDC that I wasn’t aware of. https://www.airlineratings.com/news/mcdonnell-douglas-missed-big-twin-disappeared/

  2. So, despite all the PR about safety and transparency, nothing has changed. From the article above:

    “Executive director Ray Goforth said the impasse is over Boeing’s insistence that it control the information flow to a tri-party panel that consists of Boeing, SPEEA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). SPEEA wants information to flow directly to the panel, without Boeing’s filtering it. The FAA representative is sympathetic to SPEEA’s position, says Rich Plunkett, Director of Strategic Development and SPEEA’s lead on the project.”

    Why would Boeing want to pre-filter the flow of internal complaints if it’s committed to transparency and safety?


    Here’s another curious item. The article below appeared yesterday on Reuters, but I’ve posted a paywall-free version here. Of note:

    “The agency (FAA) added it is “focused on working with Boeing to ensure only safe and compliant airplanes leave the factory, and the agency retains the authority to issue airworthiness certificates for all Boeing 787s.”

    How does one define “safe and compliant” here?
    – The 787 still has an unresolved issue with the lightning protection in its wings, after Boeing changed the design thereof in 2019.
    – The MAX still has an unresolved issue with nacelle overheating when de-icers aren’t switched off on time.
    It looks as if the FAA has a very loose concept of “safe and compliant”.


    • Re Abalone …: – The 787 still has an unresolved issue with the lightning protection in its wings, after Boeing changed the design thereof in 2019. ”

      One certainly has to wonder if the real issue re lightning strike change was the
      ‘faster-cheaper’ requirement. Certainly Boeing has had a lot of experience with very stringent lightning srike requirements and solutions re carbon fiber wing and related structures going back to the mid 1980’s ! patents on lightning strike date back to then. Specific experience on B2 and A6 rewing – 777 empenage. and no doubt a few others I am unaware of.

      Having specifically worked on – involved with that issue on B2 major wing sections front and rear spars along with an proposing a specific test for quality ( which at that time did not work ) to a young engineer who later presented ‘papers’ on similar issues in an international conference I am amazed that 30 plus years later and x number of CFRP flight hardware/parts in service- this old geezer can only come up with WTF ?
      Granted some of the solutions are /were expensive- such as copper plating all spar penetrations and related sujrfaces and /or using embedded metal ‘ mesh- fibers such that energy dissapation and ‘ grounding’ issues do not wind up in severe local delamination. But 30 plus years later ???

    • As I have stated before, there are two or three parties to the issues.

      The FAA is one of them. There always have been problems with them and you can go back to the Aloha blowout as an example. Oddly in this case Boeing did ID the issues and created an inspection protocol that would catch the first signs and what to do to fix it.

      The FAA has one inspector for the whole of the Western Pacific and Hawaii.

      He in turn did not or had no real chance to catch Aloha inspectors pencil whipping the work.

      We see many times that the FAA on site inspector was deficient in airlines inspections.

      Its not my proposal but its been put out many times, the FAA needs to get broken up into discreet parts. Its got a conflicted mission in a cheerleader for Aviation as well as enforcement and that always ends badly.

      It will never be perfect, but adds another block of cheese to the safety system that makes it more difficult for an violation to waltz through like the Door Blank blowout.

  3. The impasse is certainly resolvable, but not unless and until Boeing is publicly transparent about what its objections are.

    • I think Boeing is transparent and (pun) its clear from the statements what that is.

      They want total control per their statements so they can resume the cover up operations.

      Boeing has had no leadership for years, its all about getting your ill gotten gains and the rat(s) getting off the ship before it sinks.

  4. Just remarkable.

    With Boeing filtering the information, the proposed system would be useless. How is Boeing- at this point- able to insist on anything at
    all? They’re an absolute mess, and seem to be thumbing their nose
    at everyone involved, esp their “regulators”.

    “Committed to transparency”, you say?

    • Two possible explanations:
      – Misplaced arrogance/complacency, born out of a feeling of infallability arising from an (incorrect) assumption that the company is “too big to fail”.
      – Indifference/nihilism, arising from a fear/realization that some of the big names may/will be going to jail if/when the DPA gets binned.

      One way or another: the people at the top just don’t seem to give a sh#t that the company keeps slipping further down the drain.

      • Just change that to don’t give a XXXX and you have it right.

        There is no seem about it.

        Actions speak, words are meaningless in the face of what has been done.

  5. Isn’t this interesting…and also nauseating?

    “SPEEA Alleges Retaliation in Boeing ODA Case”

    “SEATTLE–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Boeing Co. managers retaliated against two SPEEA union members who had been designated as representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, after the union members insisted the company reevaluate prior engineering work on the 777 and 787 to account for a new FAA advisory.”

    “That’s according to the union, which on April 18 filed a National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaint in order to get access to a report Boeing filed with the FAA about the incident. The report is needed for the union to successfully appeal actions taken against one of the affected workers; the other has quit Boeing over the way he was treated.

    ““Boeing can tell Congress and the media all it wants about how ‘retaliation is strictly prohibited,’” said SPEEA Director of Strategic Development Rich Plunkett. “But our union is fighting retaliation cases on a regular basis, and in this specific case, Boeing is trying to hide information that would shed light on what happened.””


    “According to SPEEA, the two engineers involved in the complaint got at odds with Boeing managers in 2022, when they insisted on using a different set of assumptions in the analysis of the on-board computer networks on Boeing 777s and 787s, in order to comply with the new FAA guidance.

    “Boeing managers strongly objected, saying that going back to run calculations using the new assumptions would cost money and cause production delays. But the engineers, working under ODA authority on behalf of the FAA, held fast to their position that the re-work was necessary to comply with the agency’s new guidance.

    “After nearly six months of debate, the two engineers, with backing from the FAA, prevailed. Boeing re-did the required analysis.”

    • I think Boeing’s message to us is “we’ll do as we goddamn please, and You
      Proles get to like it.” There’a a name for that kind of corporatist behavior; it starts with ‘F’.

  6. You will note that one of Boeing’s mitigation efforts is to “manage temporary assignments/travelers to non-union locations”. When people say that the culture at Boeing needs to change, they mean exactly this.

    Tell me why it is a good idea to keep your engineering teams from working with each other to share knowledge and best practices? How does that promote innovation? How does one instill institutional knowledge? How does that policy promote continued cost reductions and product improvement?

    I know of a couple of instances where engineers made extremely costly mistakes by not coordinating design changes with subject matter experts due to transferring design authority and not working across organizations.

    This type of organizational behavior is detrimental in the long run to product quality and safety.

    • Sounds like the very definition of the word “dysfunctional,” which the status of its marquee programs (BCA, Starliner, KC-46A) more than confirms.

  7. Amidst this insanity is the Texas Attorney General claiming he is investigation Boeing on the safety issues.

    Talk about a nut job looking for publicity.

    Not to mention he has no jurisdiction and States have no place in this issue. Its all Federal Regulations.

  8. A bit of history re HR and” Shop” (IAM grunts ) which does not seem to have changed. re my memory and observations in the late 80’s. IF a IAM membeer wanted to see his personell file- the method was that Superevisor had to approve, and when the ” folder ” was made available in an ‘ private ” office – the supervisor had to sit opposite the grunt with folder on table. Most grunts felt so intimidated by that process they rarely asked to see their folder.
    Engineers had more freedom in that respect re access to their file- but how much intimidation was dependent on their particular supervisor- management chain. For some areas, even setting up a meeting with a QC ‘director ‘ to find out what triggered his/her (QC) ‘ well done ‘ comment could get one on the S*** list and admonishment that such direct comm with that level was verboten PERIOD.
    So even then raising a ‘negative’ issue was known to be a ‘career choice’.
    So 40 years later- it appears little has changed except to get more negative.

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