Boeing Admits Retaliating Against Whistleblowers As More Allegations Surface

A new whistleblower was identified in advance of Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun’s testimony today. A Renton, Washington quality assurance inspector says that the planemaker “improperly tracked and stored faulty parts, and that those parts were likely installed on airplanes including the 737 Max,.”

Furthermore, he claims that supervisors instructed him “to conceal evidence from the FAA,” and that he has faced retaliation. Boeing offered to fly the whistleblower to D.C. on a 737 MAX 9.

I was first to report on the Boeing whistleblower who revealed that the 737 production line had an enormous volume of defects, and that the bolts on the Alaska Airlines MAX 9 door plug were never installed.

Boeing’s CEO admitted that retaliation against whistleblowers happens at the company. I’m surprised he did not say simply that if it were ever to have happened that it would be unacceptable. He must be aware of specific instances and couldn’t lie under oath, and had been prepped that refusing to answer questions would have been, at this point, even worse.

Memes about a “Boeing hitman” are dark and funny because the problems at the company are dark and unfunny – they wouldn’t be humorous if they were likely true. They’re an exaggeration, but seem to get at something core about the darkness that has befallen the once-great engineering firm.

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  1. John Oliver did an excellent program about what has happened to this once-great company. I get it that the purpose of a company is to make money, but too many companies sacrifice both quality and employee welfare in the quest to grow shareholder wealth.

  2. I think what he’s saying is that there were likely individual employees who might not have taken kindly to the whistleblowers taking their issues outside the family so to speak, instead of solving it in-house, and took it upon themselves to dish out some payback. This is hardly Boeing itself retaliating though.

  3. Didn’t he also indicate that some of the people who retaliated against the whistleblowers have since been fired for having retaliated against the whistleblowers?

  4. In 1985 Boeing caused the largest plane crash fatality in the history of commercial airlines. They repaired the plane that would be used in Japan Airlines flight 123. The plane had a fracture sandwiched between two layers and rather than reinforcement perpendicular to the fracture they did it parallel along the sides of the fracture…effectively doing nothing. Then they hid the faulty repair under the outer casing and gave the plane back to Japan Airlines. 520 people died after the planes tail blew off due to the faulty repair and crashed into the side of a mountain. Death was not quick, as pilots tried to control the heaving, spinning, and plummeting plane for almost 30 minutes before impact.

    This current slew of safety issues is not an abnormality, it’s simply how Boeing does business and always has.

  5. Gary, Boeing did not really offer to fly the whistleblowers to hearings in a 737 MAX, that article is from a Seattle-centric satire/ Onion-esque site The Needling.

  6. sad day up on Capitol Hill but what everyone knew was happening has indeed been happening at Boeing.

    The question now is how well Boeing moves on from today. There was a lot of negative energy and alot of people aren’t going to forget quickly but today has to be seen as a necessary part of the process of rebuilding a once-proud company

  7. Boeing previously was granted a deferred prosecution agreement by the Feds. But if the company’s actions since entering into that agreement are categorized as a violation of that agreement, will the US DOJ and the US federal court (corporate-apologist) judges really throw the book at Boeing, or will Boeing be given yet another a favor because of the privilege arising from its position vis-a-via “strategic” and “national security” “concerns”?

  8. If Agent 47 is truly involved, I’d stay away from all rubber duckies and fire extinguishers…

  9. The problem at Boeing is there is no one left in the C-Suite or Board who can take full responsibility for this mess and hire the right management to restore creditability and save the brand. It’s going to take a decade to right this ship. Even the GE guy (Culp) is looking the other way…

    Calhoun, like his hand-picked/failed predecessor, is completely out of his league and it’s telling that Boeing opts to let him stay on in whatever dimenshed role for a $50M+ golden parachute.

  10. The headline is a clickbait lie. Boeing did not retaliate. Orders from the top were exactly the opposite: prohibiting retaliation. Lower level managers apparently did retaliate, in violation of company policy.

    There is no organization in which every employee obeys all official policies. However, this policy could have been better enforced. That discussion requires a different. less clickbaity headline.

  11. nsx acknowledges that lower level Boeing managers retaliated against whistleblowers. When those whistleblowers subject to retaliation got fired even after making HR at the company aware of their whistleblowing safety concerns, then there simply is no getting around the fact that Boeing retaliated against whistleblowers who raised safety concerns.

  12. It is certainly remarkable that the company that makes half the world’s passenger jets cannot recruit ethical executives.

  13. It’s unfortunately not really remarkable that ethics aren’t their strong suit. The way of advancing across the corporate world and on the corporate management ladder doesn’t really require a strong sense of ethics as much as it requires an ability to “go along to get along” and make the proverbial boss or other “in-group” types look like a good and competent person/team in terms of delivering short/medium-term results without rocking the boat too much. These types don’t like having their dirty laundry hung out because they truly are not as ethical as they may try to publicly present themselves or try to impress upon others in the “in-group”. [Much the same kind of dynamic can be seen outside the corporate world too — for example, with how things go with moderators on social media/crowdsource sites.]

    Add in the legalized corruption inherent in government contracting and how Boeing is a massive government contractor and partner, and it would be more remarkable if ethics were to be the strong suit of its executives and board of directors.

    The privileged sharks and wannabes wanting to appeal to the more privileged don’t like independent insiders or ordinary, non-predatory fish challenging the status quo powers’ declarations and ways by exposing the sharks’ bad ways.

  14. I’m going to disagree with BOEING GOBOOMBOOM’s assertion of “…always has been”. Before Boeing and McDonnell-Douglas merged and put MD’s Harry Stonecypher in charge, Boeing was the “go to” for getting stuff done. The highly fractured and dangerous Apollo program is a good example of their expertise in coordingating and succeeding in helping put a man on the moon. All new aircraft designs will have issues and, yes, accidents. However, the early 737, 727, 747, 767 and 777 programs were, in my opinion, very well done. However, once those programs got going and with the MD merger, things started going into the sh***er. And…it’s been going downhill since then. Airlines have begged for a “757NG”. Nope, we got the 737-900 and the MAX. A dog of a jet and a killer dog of a jet.

  15. Retaliation against whistle blowers happens all the time. It is almost impossible to prove if the corporation acts discretely.

  16. Boeing got extra messy in the years after it picked up McDonnell-Douglas and a substantial chunk of Rockwell. And the HQ hopping piled onto the mess.

  17. Executive suite pushes to get more planes through the assembly line each month and everyone acts surprised that workers and lower level managers don’t take shortcuts. Also they incentivize meeting the unrealistic goals.

  18. @ted: Quantitative metrics do affect employee behavior more than flowery policy statements. A discussion of these conflicting demands is much more complicated than “Boeing retaliated”, as if the outcome were intended. If every bad outcome of a poorly designed system were deemed intentional, our government could not survive.

  19. Willful negligence is intentional. Gross negligence can even be criminal.

    When it comes to manufacturers of vehicular machines for civilian use, any responsible, intelligent manufacturer/employer pushing for delivery to meet quantitative targets should be considering potential negative byproducts of the pursuit of the targeted metrics and have an action plan to mitigate the risks. Did Boeing fail in this regard? That they failed to protect whistleblowers for whistleblowing about basic safety concerns would be a sign of failure in that regard.

  20. @Alert

    Not true. You can still be downsized as a whistleblower in a layoff as long as the termination can’t be reasonably tied to your complaint.

  21. GUW: We agree that negligence is the correct term. The headline of this article implies corporate intent to retaliate, which is qualitatively different. That’s why I say it’s a lie. But it’s very effective clickbait.

  22. I pray that the two astronauts who flew on the Boeing Starliner make it back okay. That piece of junk has been delayed many years, fraught with flaws before launch, after launch and now is delayed yet again for the return due to faulty propulsion rockets. Gawd I hope the heat shield works. Maybe Elon has a spare Dragon that could be launched to safely bring them home. The old adage “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going” needs to be rewritten, “If it is Boeing, I ain’t going”.

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