Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Could Boeing's leadership shakeup make more room for labor?

caption: A Boeing 737 aircraft is shown on Thursday, March 14, 2019, at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton.
Enlarge Icon
A Boeing 737 aircraft is shown on Thursday, March 14, 2019, at the Boeing Renton Factory in Renton.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

In the wake of Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun's resignation announcement Monday, some industry insiders say the company's labor groups should have a bigger seat at the table.

Now, the machinists' union is seeking a spot on the airplane manufacturer's board.

Calhoun will leave his position at the end of the year. Plus, the head of the Boeing Commercial Airplanes division, Stan Deal, is retiring effective immediately, and the chairman of Boeing's Board of Directors, Larry Kellner, will not run for re-election.

KUOW's Sounside talked to Scott Hamilton, an aviation industry consultant with Leeham Company and author of "Air Wars: The Global Combat Between Airbus and Boeing," about these changes — and what they mean for Boeing's future.

RELATED: Boeing CEO's resignation is 'an extremely positive development,' industry analyst says

Hamilton said these changes don't necessarily signal a new focus on safety and engineering instead of stock price and profit.

"The board has always bought into this thing about shareholder value return," he explained. "And that's all well and good. But there has to be a balance between that and running the company."

For Hamilton, it will all depend on who Boeing chooses to fill the CEO role.

"You need an aerospace engineer-type individual who knows production, knows aerospace production, knows the supply chain issues," he said. "They still have to learn the Boeing system, but I think you don't want to go outside the industry."

RELATED: Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to step down, part of a shakeup after 737 Max problems

Earlier this month, the International Association of Machinists District 751, which represents more than 32,000 Boeing machinists, started new contract discussions. Hamilton said they'll be a big part of how the company moves forward, especially as they work to get a seat on Boeing's board.

"The machinists' union has been complaining for years about safety concerns in the production line, and how their complaints would often, at least in their view, fall on deaf ears," Hamilton said.

Jon Holden, president of the International Association of Machinists District 751, said the union will propose a wage increase of more than 40% over three years, a year sooner than the previous contract. They're also hoping to build safety issues into the contract directly, according to Hamilton.

RELATED: As the DOJ investigates Boeing, crash victims' families wonder why it's taken so long

But when it comes to quality control and safety on Boeing's line, Hamilton said it's all about who they bring in — and perhaps a change of scenery by bringing the company's headquarters back to Seattle.

"This is where they make the money," he said. "This is where they make the airplanes, and I do think that having the corporate executive C-suites on the other side of the country is not a good thing."

You can listen to Soundside's entire conversation Scott Hamilton by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

Why you can trust KUOW