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Former Boeing manager says workers mishandled parts to meet deadlines| GuyWhoKnowsThings


Two framed documents from a long career at Boeing hang side by side in Merle Meyers' home: a 2022 certificate thanking him for his three decades of service. And a letter that he received months later reprimanding him for his actions.

The documents reflect his mixed emotions about the company. Meyers, who worked as Boeing's quality director until last year, has a deep affection for the airplane maker, where he and his mother worked. But he is also sad and frustrated by what he described as a years-long shift by Boeing executives to emphasize speed over quality.

“I love the company,” said Meyers, 65, who is publicly sharing his concerns for the first time, supported by hundreds of pages of emails and other documents. For years, he said, quality was the top priority, but that changed over time: “Now, it's the schedule that takes the lead.”

Many aviation professionals revere Boeing as an enduring symbol of ingenuity and an engineering and manufacturing powerhouse. It is so important to the American economy that presidents actually served as salespeople for its aircraft abroad. The company is a dominant force in Washington state and a major employer in the Seattle area, where it was founded and produces the 737 and other aircraft.

A job at Boeing is often a source of pride, and many employees have intergenerational ties to the company. In addition to his mother, Meyers said, his wife's father and grandfather also worked there.

But that shared pride has been seriously hurt in recent years. The company's reputation was tarnished by a pair of fatal 737 Max 8 crashes in 2018 and 2019 and an episode in which a panel exploded on a 737 Max 9 plane on January 5. That flight reignited intense scrutiny from regulators, airlines and the public.

Last month, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said he would resign at the end of the year and its president left his post immediately. The company said it had since taken steps to improve quality, including increasing inspections, hiring inspectors and pausing production so managers can hear directly from workers.

“For years, we prioritized moving the plane through the factory over getting it right, and that has to change,” Brian West, the company's chief financial officer, said at an investor conference last month.

As long as aviation continues extremely safe (Far fewer people die on airplanes than in cars, trucks or buses), the Jan. 5 flight highlighted quality concerns raised by Meyers and other current and former employees. Many who have spoken out say they have done so out of respect for Boeing employees and their work, and a desire to pressure the company to restore its reputation.

“The Boeing company has done everything for me and I can never do enough for them,” said Meyers, a Christian chaplain who said his decision to speak out was due in part to his faith. “We love the company very much. That's why you fight for it.”

His career at Boeing, which included some long gaps, began in 1979 with a job manufacturing overhead storage bins. Starting in the mid-1990s, he oversaw quality at suppliers making seats, galleys and other components in Texas, England and France. Meyers said he had been fired twice, in the early 1990s and early 2000s. He returned a few years later and spent the second half of his career in quality supervision in Everett, Washington, where Boeing makes several models. of airplanes.

Meyers, who wears a ring on his right hand commemorating his 30 years at Boeing, said he had begun to notice a decline in the company's high standards after its 1997 merger with McDonnell Douglas. He said Boeing's engineering-first mentality had slowly given way to a stronger focus on profits after McDonnell Douglas executives took top jobs at Boeing.

Meyers said he was especially concerned that workers at Boeing's Everett factory felt so much pressure to keep production going that they found unauthorized ways to get the parts they needed. That included taking parts assigned to other aircraft, taking newly delivered components before they could be inspected or registered, or attempting to recover parts that had been scrapped. For Meyers, managers did little to dissuade or punish workers from taking such shortcuts.

“What is rewarded is repeated,” he said. “People get promotions by pushing parts.”

Thousands of people work in the Everett building, which is generally considered the largest in the world by its volume, and Meyers acknowledges that his observations were limited to some of the work done there. But the pressures he described are similar to those identified by other current and former employees.

In a 2015 investigation, Meyers found that workers had used an unauthorized form to recover discarded parts, such as landing gear axles, at least 23 times in 15 years, according to email correspondence. Components are usually thrown away because they are of poor quality or defective, but in several cases workers said parts had been removed by mistake, an explanation Meyers said was hard to believe. The movement of parts is generally highly documented and regulated to ensure quality and safety.

“The parts don't just end up in scrap metal,” he said. His findings ultimately helped end the practice, according to documents provided by Mr. Meyers.

In 2021, his team identified multiple cases in which employees removed parts from receiving areas before those components could be inspected, according to the documents. In one case, an employee took parts and disposed of associated paperwork and shipping boxes. In another case, Meyers shared with corporate investigators a chain of annotated emails showing that several 787 bulkheads had been removed from a reception area without the knowledge of quality inspectors.

In a statement, the company said it took those violations seriously.

“Boeing's quality team plays an important role in identifying issues, improving processes and strengthening compliance in our factories,” the company said. “We appreciate employees who speak up and have systems in place to encourage them to speak confidentially or anonymously.”

Meyers said he would notify corporate investigators about such incidents when he believed the practices he uncovered were widespread and that the company should do more to stop them.

But emails he shared with The New York Times also show that his efforts to get the attention of those investigators often ended in frustration. In some cases, investigators said they could not substantiate his conclusions. Meyers responded frequently and in some cases was able to prompt additional action, she said.

Early last year, Meyers had received that written reprimand, which said he was responsible for creating “defective products, services, or work results,” but did not provide any details about what he had done wrong. He felt that his concerns were not taken seriously and that, if he remained at Boeing, he could eventually be pushed out. They offered a financial incentive for him to resign, so he accepted it.

It was not the departure I had expected or planned.

Meyers was a teenager when his mother, Darlene Meyers, joined Boeing in the early 1970s. Her two-decade career there, which saw her rise from an employee to a high-profile role as an appointed representative of the Federal Administration of Aviation, had helped lift them both out of poverty, he said.

His own career at Boeing helped provide a comfortable life for his family and a good education for his daughter and son, who are in their 30s and have families of their own.

Since leaving, he has focused more on the work he and his wife, Cindy, who is also a chaplain, have done for some time, helping trauma survivors or people dealing with grief.

“I didn't want to go back to aerospace,” he said. “I've had enough scars.”


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