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Boeing layoffs hit amid progress on unemployment backlog

caption: A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Renton.
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A Boeing employee walks out of the Boeing Renton Factory after shift change on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019, in Renton.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Boeing laid off 6,000 employees on Friday, July 31. Those employees now join the 1.3 million Washingtonians who have already filed for unemployment.

KUOW’s Carolyn Adolph discussed the layoffs with Paige Browning on July 30, the day before workers lost their jobs.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Carolyn Adolph: These are Covid-19 layoffs, too, but Boeing workers have some assets other unemployed people are not getting. These were won for them by their unions, who made the case that the feds should use an assistance program for workers displaced by trade agreements.

These Boeing workers are getting unemployment benefits for up to two years, which is about twice as long as other people who are unemployed — but they need to be in training for new work. They will be guided toward that training. There will also be help to pay for it.

Boeing CEO David Calhoun didn't have a lot of specifics, but he talked on Wednesday about what the next cuts are going to look like. They're going to start to get into the bone of the commercial airplanes business: Reducing production rates for wide-body jets like the 787 and the 777, and possibly stopping production of the 787 at Everett all together while they transfer that to South Carolina. Now, that is not at all clear, but that's among the options.

We don't know how many workers are next. Boeing says in two years, it could be back up to full strength. But right now, after the Max crisis, which began in March 2019, it's drained cash flow. And then the Covid crisis crashed global aviation, and now airlines are backing away from orders. Only cargo freighters, the Boeing 767, are in high demand right now.

Just to show you how serious it is, I was startled yesterday to hear Greg Smith, Boeing's Chief Financial Officer, thanking the federal government for stabilizing credit markets so Boeing could go out and borrow $25 billion to keep the operation running. Boeing also gave thanks for stable government contracts.

Boeing workers say it's a very scary time to be there. People who survived the first round don't know how long their luck is going to last, or what they would do if they couldn't stay. This said, Boeing workers can be OK because of that federal package. Right now, the bigger worry is for people already in the unemployment system, who are losing some key support.

Losing the $600 a week (from the federal government) means that the average amount that Washingtonians will now receive per week is $374, according to Employment Security. That works out to be about $1,600 worth of income a month. Of course, there's a federal stimulus package coming with another $1,200 per person, but now we can see that it's going to be several weeks, maybe longer, before the political fight over the fate of the $600 a week is going to be resolved. Seattle's Mayor Jenny Durkan is saying this is going to be devastating.

So, there is more insecurity at a time when reopening has stalled in our state. However, there is some good news. I've been hearing from people who are getting paid after months of receiving no money from Employment Security for a bunch of reasons.

There's been this long backlog of people filing for unemployment and we're going to know more pretty soon. The Employment Security Department has a goal of resolving stale cases by Friday. This said, it does look like up to 11,000 people still haven't been paid as of a few days ago.

People I've spoken to who have solved their problems say contact your state representative. State reps have a back channel they use, a separate staff in every department that handles requests from them. If people get trapped in a situation where they can't verify their identity, because the website already thinks they're fraudsters — this is just one example of the kinds of jams people are getting into — contact the state representative. That can be a very hard nut to crack on your own.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

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