RENTON, Wash — As 27,000 Washington Boeing employees prepare to return to work next week, some are voicing concerns that the company is resuming production too fast amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Robert, a Boeing mechanic who did not want to show his face or provide his last name for fear of jeopardizing his job, said he was surprised and concerned to learn that he would be expected to return to work Tuesday, April 21.
“I think most of us [employees] are just worried,” he said. “Are we jumping the gun too soon?”
Boeing suspended operations at its facilities in March due to the pandemic, and at least 30 Boeing employees have contracted coronavirus. One employee even lost his life.
Robert said he knew the man who died.
“He was a good man and I was sad to hear that he had passed,” he said.
Boeing has announced a “phased approach” to production of commercial airplanes, which includes staggering shifts for employees, implementing social distancing guidelines, and providing some personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks.
Already, approximately 2,500 Boeing employees are back on the job working on defense production. Robert said some of those workers are already complaining about failures in the company’s social distancing strategy.
“They’re saying no there’s not enough personal protective equipment and they’re low on things and they’re expecting you to reuse masks,” he said.
In an email to KING 5, a Boeing spokesperson said, “At all of its sites, the company has taken extra precautions and instituted comprehensive procedures to keep people safe and fight the spread of COVID-19. The health and safety of our employees, their families and communities is our shared priority.”
While Boeing is providing some masks and PPE, the spokesperson added, “All employees are strongly encouraged to have their own cloth face coverings.”
Governor Jay Inslee sounded an optimistic note during a Thursday press conference when questioned about Boeing resuming operations.
“I am glad the Boeing company is committing to very robust social distancing protocols and use of PPE,” he said. He acknowledged that he had not yet spoken with Boeing officials to ensure that the steps they were taking were adequate.
Robert said he wants to return to work, but he would rather Boeing abide by the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“The governor along with other people have talked about when the economy opens up, it’s not going to be a light switch going suddenly on,” said Robert. “This seems like all at once to me and that concerns me and I think it concerns a lot of other people.”