Boeing Puzzling Over Engineers in Kansas and Oklahoma

Engineers at Boeing Wichita are still awaiting news about their status with the company now that Boeing has agreed to sell its commercial aircraft business in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Boeing issued 60-day layoff notices to 8,100 employees last week to make way for Onex Corp. to begin its hiring process. Engineers, however, were not included -- yet.

Company officials are trying to figure out the best way to split the engineers between its military operation -- which is not being sold -- and the commercial aircraft operation, said Boeing spokesman Dick Ziegler.

No time has been set on when those decisions will be made, Ziegler said. And Boeing has not said how many engineers will receive layoff notices.

Of the 1,400 engineers who work at Boeing's Wichita facility, more than 500 work in the commercial aircraft division.

The engineers have had the flexibility to move between military and commercial aircraft projects as the need arises, said Bob Brewer, midwest director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. The union represents Boeing engineers here.

Its labor contract with Boeing allows higher-level engineers losing their jobs in one division to bump out lower-level engineers in the other division, Brewer said.

That could potentially mean that higher-level engineers in the commercial side would move to the military division and stay with Boeing once they receive their notices, he said.

And that could mean the new company will end up with less experienced engineers.

"And that's not going to work," Brewer said. "You've got to have experience."

Bumping rights also apply to hourly workers represented by the Machinists union. About 29 employees in Boeing's military division received layoff notices, Ziegler said.

That's because hourly commercial aircraft workers who meet certain guidelines and have seniority could transfer to the military side. And that would affect workers with less seniority in the military division.