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Thursday, October 11, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Nonunion Boeing workers know performance rating will determine fate

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

If your company picked out the most expendable 20 percent of its workers, would your name be on the list?

That's the agonizing question confronting Boeing's nonunion workers as the company prepares to hand out thousands of 60-day layoff warnings tomorrow. Unlike Boeing's hourly and engineering employees, workers who are not represented by a union can't rely on seniority or "retention ratings" to gauge their layoff prospects.

Instead, these job cuts will be determined by performance evaluations that began less than three weeks ago. Some workers won't know their assessments until today, one day before the layoff notices are distributed. Gina Parry, a Boeing administrative assistant in Everett, is counting on her five years of service to buffer her from at least the first round of job cuts. Still, Parry is preparing for the possibility of an eventual layoff by paring her Christmas shopping list and avoiding credit-card purchases.

"Even though seniority is not the determining factor, probably newer employees will go first," Parry said. "Obviously your value is going to increase as you get more training."

With little concrete information to go by, some employees worry about the fairness of the ratings.

"It's easier to pick out the management favorites," said a procurement agent who fears her job may not survive and who asked not to be identified.

The employee, with more than 20 years of experience at Boeing, said she and many of her coworkers are upset that seniority won't be a direct factor in the rankings.

Workers will be rated A, B or C. Layoffs will occur first among employees rated C within each job classification with "surplus" workers.

"Are we stressed out? You bet we are," the procurement agent said. "Is morale low? Of course."

Boeing last month announced it may cut 20 to 30 percent of its 93,700 commercial-airplane jobs by the end of next year because of falling jetliner deliveries. Some 60,000 of those jobs are in the Puget Sound area, including about 18,000 nonunion positions.

Nonunion workers hold mostly white-collar jobs such as finance and communications.

Members of the International Association of Machinists, the largest union at Boeing, are laid off strictly by seniority and job classification. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents 20,000 Boeing engineering and technical workers in the Puget Sound area, receive annual evaluations to establish their value to the company. By contract, Boeing has to lay off workers ranked in the bottom 20th percentile first.

Cris McHugh, a Boeing spokeswoman, said nonunion workers will be rated on their job performance as well as "professional and personal attributes."

Robin Ryan, a Seattle career counselor and author, said many employers most likely will retain workers who are adaptable, flexible and get along with their peers.

"If you've got a bad attitude, you're going to be the one that they get rid of," said Ryan, who will be working with SPEEA to conduct career seminars in November.

"If you take long coffee breaks, or stay on the phone or frequently go on the Internet, chill all that."

Marilynn Mathews, president of Networker, a Seattle human-resources consulting and recruitment firm, said performance evaluations by nature are subjective, with supervisors tending to favor "people who are more like themselves."

Mathews said Boeing may face an easier task than most companies in ranking nonunion workers because of the ratings system already in place for SPEEA members.

Boeing used to rate its nonunion workers, but phased out the practice following its merger with McDonnell Douglas in 1997.

Still, Mathews said, Boeing will have to navigate carefully to avoid discriminating against groups of workers, such as older, higher-paid employees.

Age-discrimination cases outnumber gender- or race-based complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Luis Lucero, regional attorney for the Seattle district office.

The federal Age Discrimination and Employment Act covers workers age 40 and over who work for companies with at least 20 employees.

Laid-off nonunion workers will get one week's pay for each year of service, up to 26 weeks. Boeing will continue paying their medical and dental premiums for three months.

Workers get first rights to their old jobs for six months if Boeing rehires, and they can apply in writing to renew their priority status every six months for a total of three years.

Unlike in the past, Boeing is not giving incentives to quit or to retire early. Boeing considered buyouts to minimize the number of involuntary layoffs, but decided the added cost "actually would end up costing more people their jobs," Boeing spokeswoman McHugh said.

Ryan said employees who get a layoff warning tomorrow should brace for a surge of strong emotions — feelings they could do best to keep to themselves.

Jobs aren't as plentiful as they were a year ago, and Ryan said workers should enlist their supervisors' help in getting good references and referrals instead of lashing out at them.

Even workers who dodge pink slips this time around shouldn't let their performance slide, Ryan said. "There will be a next round," she warned.

Kyung Song can be reached at 206-464-2423 or ksong@seattletimes.com.

Boeing layoffs in Spokane

SPOKANE — Boeing will give 60-day layoff notices to 10 percent of its Spokane work force tomorrow, prompted by a decline in airplane orders and a troubling four-year outlook.

The notices will go to between 50 and 55 workers for layoffs effective Dec. 14.

Most of the cuts are among members of the Machinists union, said human-resources manager Dick Welsh.

In Spokane, the company operates a 545-employee factory where workers make floor panels, air ducts and cockpit drip shields.

— The Associated Press

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