back to article Hm! Boeing union just ran whistleblower rights training

A union representing Boeing employees held a training session last week on whistleblower protection rights, suggesting the troubled jetmaker's problems may be far from over.  The Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA), which represents workers at Boeing and Boeing spin-off-slash-supplier Spirit …

  1. The Dogs Meevonks Silver badge

    Didn't the CEO recently get a huge pay bump plus bonuses in the millions?

    Is that for a job well done, or to pay the hitmen?

    1. bazza Silver badge

      He did, a golden parachute to help him softly to the ground having exited the door that just blew out.

      Thing is, the shareholders voted to re-appoint him to another post on the board, last Thursday I think. So, he's had his money, and still has a job. Try figuring the logic in that one.

      I don't think Boeing's shareholders quite realise how bad that looks. Major customers wanted to talk to the board without Calhoun present, not long ago. This was interpreted as the customers wanting to deliver a "he goes or we go" message. So, he went, and the meeting didn't happen. And, now he's back!

      Just exactly how Emirates, Ryan Air, etc are supposed to react (in the shareholders' eyes) I don't really know. I think they're going to take the news badly.

      I also don't think they quite understand how the FAA is going to react either. To some extent, it feels like the company and its shareholders are acting in the firm belief that they are too big to fail, and that no matter what the political pressure to keep them operating will always override any other considerations. If that were indeed the case, it's the height of cyncism: it's a "you're goddamn gonna fly in our crappy aircraft no matter how goddamn hard you try to avoid us" aimed squarely at the US flying public.

      I say the "US flying public" very specifically. Boeing's behaviour makes sense only if the FAA can indeed be cowed (as has been the case for too many years). Trouble is, Boeing's commercial future is dependent on not the FAA, but on how the rest of the world's regulators see the FAA, and how they react to what the FAA's saying. What's quite interesting is that quite a lot of what the FAA has been saying / doing of late (since the door popped off) seems more aimed at overseas regulators, making certain that they think that the FAA is being adequately tough, and not letting Boeing get away with too much. This can go badly wrong for Boeing.

      The FAA has given the company a 90 deadline to come up with a plausible plan to sort things out, or.... Now, from an overseas regulator's point of view (the EASA, CAA, CAAC, etc), there's a few problems with that.

      The first is that clearly Boeing are in such a bad mess that such a threat has had to be made publicly.

      The second is, what does a plausible plan look like? Frankly, given the behaviour of the company and all the people who are still in place in its management chain, it's hard to imagine any plan at all having any credibility. Regardless, "good enough" doesn't seem to have been defined.

      Thirdly, what's the sanction? It's suggested that the FAA is contemplating withdrawing Boeing's production certificate, which shuts down 737 production and deliveries immediately. But, that's not been made clear.

      So, if the FAA turns round and says, "yes, this time these folk at Boeing who have been bullshitting us all for years and crashing planes have now come up with a good plan and we firmly believe they will immediately deliver on it", they are going to have to be phenomenally convincing. If the EASA, CAA, CAAC or whomever takes one look at what's on offer and declares it "bullshit", then they're pretty much obliged to ground relevant Boeings within their jurisdiction. The risk they're running is that, in believing the FAA, they're then accepting personal responsibility for having taken the FAA's word at face value. Will those people - whom the US gov / politicians / officials have no sway over whatsoever - take that personal risk? I wouldn't. I really wouldn't.

      And if that happens enough, Boeing's overseas order book is undeliverable, and that accounts for most of the value in the orders they have.

      One way for the FAA to be totally convincing is, in fact, to call Boeing's bluff and actually shut them down. If they get overruled by the politicians, that too starts making the FAA's word look dodgy in the eyes of overseas regulators.

      If the US politicians back up the FAA in shutting down Boeing indefinitely, then yes, we can all easily accept that the FAA and US political establishment has finally understood it.

      However, I don't think the FAA is going to get such backing. The FAA may shut down Boeing, but a few months later the FAA Chair will be retired and a new one appointed with instructions... Shutting down Boeing has economic consequences starting to accumulate, especially in the US, as old aircraft are retired and news ones aren't being made to replace it. That kind of thing doesn't have to go on too long before what started as a straight commercial failure problem becoming a national econmic issue; such scenarios are not vote winners, even if it's the "safe" thing to do.

      In short, I think the company mamangement is confident that if the FAA can be brought to heel once more, get Trump in he'll sort them out, then the rest of the world's regulators will toe the line. However, what the MAX crashes did was to break that bond between the FAA and other regulators. It was the moment that the rest of the world realised that the USA had been bullshitting them on aviation safety. Kinda hard to un-do that loss of trust.

      1. martinusher Silver badge

        This is why modern business really likes virtual products -- 'services' and so on. Engineering is one of those fields where if you make a mistake its all to obvious, you really can't BS your way out of a failed structure or a crashed plane. Not that this won't stop people trying, of course.

        The marvel for me is that given some of the horror stories we've been hearing is just how well these planes work -- despite everything they mostly manage to fly quite safely. This actually tallies with many of us' experience where dedicated employees move Heaven and Earth to keep product moving and things happening despite the best efforts of overbearing, disconnected, management. This is obviously not a good way to run a business (unless you sole aim is that $30millioh paycheck) because a business like this is really just circling the drain, its only a matter of time before the Brazilians and the Chinese enter the international market and then, like the motor industry, domestic rah-rah products and government contracts won't save you.

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          They fly safely because government agencies make damn sure they do.

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Indeed, and the cirumstances around the MAX crashes show what happens when the government regulator stops doing it.

            The US politicians who, down the decades, reduced the FAA's funding and denuded it of any effective means to intervene as a regulator are as much to blame for the MAX crashes as anyone who bears fault. However, that breach of trust is the most severe. People pay their taxes to fund government regulators to ensure that there really is a back-stop of last resort that will protect the public should any company in the regulated industry start cutting corners. It's as much a necessary public service as anything else.

            It's also extremely good for the industry; a well run industry with good public regulation does well, because the paying customers gain confidence in it. The FAA's former scale / excellence working in conjunction with companies who knew what doing the right thing meant are what turned the aviation industry into the behemouth it is today. Taking short cuts on regulatory capacity is a sure fire way of, one day, destroying that industry, or at least doing it grave harm. For example, how many cancelled flights have there been now inside the USA because of a problem with Boeing's products?

            It's one of the reasons why I've never understood Musk's frequent rants about "over regulation". The only reason why anyone lets him do anything in space is because of regulation. Take it away, and there's no mechanism by which the US can let him launch and the country also stick to its treaty obligations, which would rapidly lead international repurcussions / sanctions.

      2. Vulch

        There has been talk of splitting Boeing into three, civilain aircraft, military aircraft and space. The Military and space divisions are the nes that can't be allowed to fail from a political point of view. It would be politically unfortunate for the civilian division to go under, but the pieces of it could be regathered under new management and a lot of image reshaping.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          "It would be politically unfortunate for the civilian division to go under, but the pieces of it could be regathered under new management and a lot of image reshaping."

          If that bit of Boeing, should it be split off, was severely "punished" by the FAA, I could see US carriers strongly lobbying for some of the protectionist tariffs on importing foreign aircraft to be reduced or lifted. On the other hand, the biggest competitor is Airbus and their order books are full with a lead of of years for new orders placed today. On yet another hand, Boeing being split up isn't likely to happen for years at the usual pace of government bureaucracy.

    2. MJI Silver badge

      Why is he not in jail?

      1. ecofeco Silver badge

        Because in America, members of the board(s) are literally, above the law.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Someone might go to jail. The DoJ has apparently decided that the deferred prosecution agreement has been breached (dating back to the MAX crashes).

        Calhoun himself wasn't at the helm in the relevant timeframes for the MAX crashes, so it's unlikely to be him personally taking that rap. And, if anything, one of the functions of a regulator is identify when a company that had been bullshitting with fatal consequences was continuing to do so after. There's been many hints since the MAX crashes that all was not well within Boeing, that nothing was being put right. Arguably the FAA has bent far to far over backwards in trying to keep Boeing production running, but the door falling off was clearly the last straw. Or at least, it should be.

  2. martinusher Silver badge

    Whistleblowing can be hazardous to one's health

    A couple of Boeing whistleblowers have died recently, one by suicide (bullet to the head) in between deposition sessions. This may be purely coincidental but its the kind of coincidence that not only fuels conspiracy theorists but also scares the pants off anyone else ("who might just be tempted to testify").

    The fellow who died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound, John Barnett, was a long standing quality manager at Boeing and was giving a deposition about his observations about 'unsafe wiring practices' and general fallout he attributed to management's need to cut costs and boost productivity. Boeing traditionally, being driven by engineers, would take any kind of QA problem seriously but it appears that the shift in focus to finance driven management was accompanied by a general slackening of standards. This, as we all are probably only too well aware in our own fields, doesn't necessarily cause any problems at first, the decay creeps in slowly, but by the time it becomes noticeable problems are coming in thick and fast (so it seems on the surface that Boeing can't do anything right these days). Its an unhealthy situation which I'd hope that the workforce representatives are trying to remedy because all of their jobs are at stake.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge

      Re: Whistleblowing can be hazardous to one's health

      This may be purely coincidental but its the kind of coincidence that not only fuels conspiracy theorists but also scares the pants off anyone else [...]

      As Malcolm Nance is fond of saying: “Coincidence takes a lot of planning.”

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Whistleblowing can be hazardous to one's health

        "Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action"

        -- Auric Goldfinger

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    The only training whistleblowers need remember

    Never tell management in advance and release the information anonymously.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: The only training whistleblowers need remember

      Never tell ANYONE... apart from the press, of course

  4. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

    What needs to happen is that senior management needs to be frog marched out of their offices in handcuffs.

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    This is what happens when what management wants to know isn't what they need to know.

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Preferably, in BOFH style, down stars where they accidentally stumble.

  6. Marty McFly Silver badge

    While we have the conspiracy hat on...

    Seems sporting for everyone to blame Boeing for the untimely deaths of the whistleblowers.

    It could have been the union. They are just as vested in keeping the production lines open. If Boeing has to cut production, that means they need less labor. When there are fewer jobs to go around, that decreases the union's power.

    And there is that tiny issue of historical ties between unions and dark deeds.

    But that is just conspiracy talk. Occam's razor suggests the death's are as they appear to be, and the rest is just coincidence.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: While we have the conspiracy hat on...

      I think it's Musk.

      If we don't have Boeing then the only possible solution to long distance travel in America will be self-driving hyper-loop cyber-trucks

  7. ecofeco Silver badge

    Boeing once, Boeing twice

    ...and Boeing 3 times to the winning bidder!

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