Call it the Boeing Shuffle.
In the coming months, The Boeing Co. plans to relocate 12,000 of its Seattle-area employees in the biggest and most complex move in the aerospace company’s 79-year history.
The idea, Boeing officials say, is to save money and eliminate an “us-and-them” mentality that pervades much of the company’s Commercial Airplane Group.
Part of the problem is that work on the company’s jetliners is divided between two factories: the Renton plant south of Seattle, where 737s and 757s are built, and the Everett plant, to the north, which assembles widebody 747s, 767s and 777s.
“Right now, we really have three separate companies - the 777 division, Everett and Renton,” said Alan Mulally, Boeing’s vice president of engineering and product development.
“We are trying to get people together who really need to pursue common processes and common solutions across the Boeing airplane factory.”
The idea, Mulally and others say, is to have engineers and other experts who work on similar components to be in the same work area and answering to one manager. Many are now scattered among a number of locations in Seattle, Everett and Renton.
Over the next several months, more than 2,500 workers will be transferred from Renton and other offices to Everett, and about 750 will move from Everett to Renton. Another 8,000 workers will be reassigned within the same buildings or in nearby facilities.
Moving that many people and their equipment won’t be easy. “We’ll be moving about 20,000 individual computers or workstations,” said Dick Day, Boeing’s director of engineering laboratories.
About 200 workers already have been relocated, but the bulk of the moves will be over a four-month period, starting in September.
Boeing officials say the restructuring is needed to improve the way planes are designed and built. Often, they say, engineers and managers in Everett don’t always communicate or agree with colleagues in Renton, and vice versa. Good ideas that spring up on one program sometimes never get spread to others.
“The Snohomish-King county line is kind of like the Mason-Dixon,” says design engineer Michael Scolman.
Whether the moves actually improve communication remains to be seen. “There are people sitting side-by-side now who still are not communicating,” says flight control engineer Andre Airut.
However, Airut acknowledges the change will eliminate some job duplication and allow the company to move out of some rented offices.
Boeing has eliminated about 60,000 jobs over the past five years due to fewer jet orders and the end of the Cold War.
In 1993, Boeing transferred 7,000 people from Renton to new office space in Everett for the 777 program. The upcoming move will be more complicated, taking employees from 24 buildings and moving them to 24 new locations.
The company hopes to minimize disruption by having employees pack their belongings on a designated Friday, moving the stuff on the weekend, and having them report to their new offices that Monday.