EVERETT, Wash. - The union representing engineers has filed age discrimination complaints against Boeing, saying that older employees are being targeted for layoffs. The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace filed complaints Wednesday at the state Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against the aerospace giant, The Everett Herald reported Thursday. The union alleges that Boeing used a two-step scheme to shed older, higher-skilled engineers from its payrolls. The union says Boeing changed how it determines who gets laid off when work is cut, and then it created the need for layoffs by announcing plans to move jobs - but not necessarily employees - to non-union shops out of metro Puget Sound. At least 4,500 workers are affected by the company's actions, Ray Goforth, SPEEA's executive director, told the newspaper. "It dramatically shifts who is positioned for future layoffs," Goforth told the newspaper. Boeing denies the allegations. The company said "diversifying" its engineer workforce reflects changes in the aerospace industry and is not related to age. "Boeing does not discriminate against its employees on any basis," a company statement said. Sometime before March, the company changed how it assigns what are called retention rankings, which determine the order by which employees are laid off if jobs are cut. The rating system puts each worker in one of three tiers - R1, R2 or R3 - with R1 being the best rating and last to be laid off. Previously, the company ranked employees relative to everyone doing the same job. So, for example, an electrical engineer would be ranked relative to every other electrical engineer at Boeing, Goforth said. Since the system was meant to insulate the highest-value employees from layoffs, a highly skilled and experienced worker was much more likely to get an R1 ranking than a new hire fresh out of college. But that changed when Boeing tweaked the system ahead of its annual update of retention rankings in March, Goforth said. This year, the Chicago-based company considered employees' job levels when determining retention rankings, according to the union's filing. Job levels are assigned based on a worker's skills and experience. They are not based on seniority, Goforth said. "This illegal manipulation doubled, tripled, and quadrupled layoff vulnerability for older employees compared to previous years," Goforth said. In early April, the company announced plans to move several thousand engineering jobs - but not workers -out of metro Puget Sound. Affected employees are effectively being laid off. Goforth said that by shedding older workers the company would be saving billions of dollars. The company has said most are expected to land in other positions with Boeing in the region, and that moving engineering work to a handful of so-called "centers of excellence" around the country is a business decision meant to maintain a competitive edge.
First published July 24 2014, 3:15 PM