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Wednesday, September 19, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Boeing workers saw cuts coming

Seattle Times staff reporters

Ever since terrorists turned jetliners into weapons of destruction a week ago, Boeing employees said they knew the company would feel the shock waves directly.

Last night, workers in Everett and Renton seemed to accept the announcement of up to 30,000 job cuts by the end of next year as inevitable. And politicians worried about the future.

"It doesn't surprise me when you look at what happened to the airlines," said Kevin Finlay, an assembler on the 757 line in Renton.

"Bottom line, it's going to affect us. If we can't sell airplanes, we can't keep as many people employed. It's part of the business."

At the Renton plant yesterday, rumors swirled of looming job cuts as workers watched airline stocks tumble. The question of the day: How deep would the cuts go.

"People with my seniority can see this kind of thing coming," said Finlay, a Boeing employee for 12 years. He said he doubts many workers will be blindsided.

"Obviously, we knew there was going to be a downturn," added Don Gross, who works on hydraulics and fuel systems for the 747. His 13th anniversary at the company is Sunday.

Gross has been through this sort of scare before. Last night, at Everett's Jet Deck Bar and Grill, a popular hangout for Boeing workers, Gross said he wasn't sure how seriously to take the reduction announcement.

"Every time they need more money, every time they need their stock to go up, they announce layoffs," he said.

David Hanson, a quality-assurance inspector for 737s at the Renton plant, questioned Boeing's timing.

"Boeing follows the airline industry by a few months — the commercial side. It usually doesn't work this quickly," he said on a break last evening.

"The dominoes fell a lot faster and a lot harder this time. It's devastating."

Richard Cole, a finance manager in Boeing's Shared Services Group in Bellevue, received an e-mail yesterday morning that told him and others to review three or four cost-cutting scenarios.

After 32 years, it's something he's done many times before. Many projects have been put on hold, expansions have been limited. The last resort is cutting people from the payroll. But even through this year's economic slowdown, he wasn't sure cutting jobs was necessary.

"We knew we were under intense cost pressures early this year, but that doesn't always translate into layoffs," Cole said.

"When (the attacks) happened, we immediately knew the airline industry was going down the tubes. They would hurt because people act normally in a situation like this. They're afraid to fly."

Despite Boeing management talk about diversification into defense and satellites, commercial airplanes still account for nearly 60 percent of Boeing's revenues.

Boeing jobs account for much of Everett's economy.

"We have yet more innocent victims of the evil that was carried out last week," said Snohomish County Executive Bob Drewel, who was told of the news by a Boeing spokesman late yesterday afternoon.

"This region will need to come together," he said, saying the local economy as well as the local philanthropic communities would take a significant hit.

Bob Overstreet, an Everett city councilman, said he wasn't that surprised by the announcement.

"The orders lineup was shaky," he said. He said the local economy would surely be affected, but he and others weren't ready to quantify how much.

Seattle Times staff reporters Ralph Thomas, Chris Solomon and Craig Welch contributed to this report.

Florangela Davila can be reached at 206-464-2916 or fdavila@seattletimes.com.

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