The big question: Will incoming Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg's years of experience as a Boeing engineer translate into better relations between the company and its unions?
The answer could mean the difference between Boeing building its next jet in the Puget Sound region, or in South Carolina. Boeing announced Muilenburg's appointment Tuesday.
He takes over for Jim McNerney, who will remain the company's chairman. Concern that Muilenburg might be less polarizing toward labor has draw attention from the Charleston Post and Courier newspaper, which ran a story Thursday suggesting the new reign could erode labor-adverse South Carolina’s future with Boeing.
“McNerney was eager to establish a second final-assembly site as a way of weakening labor, a motivation Muilenburg may or may not share,” Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst with the Teal Group outside Washington, D.C., told the Courier. “In other words, the growth of Boeing’s North Charleston site might not be quite as robust, nor as guaranteed, as under McNerney.”
Better relations wouldn’t be hard, given outgoing CEO McNerney’s pointed antipathy toward unions, which led him to at one point refer to “cowering” workers in a public speech.
While serving as president and COO, Muilenburg has said almost nothing about unions.
But unlike McNerney, who came to Boeing from General Electric, Muilenburg has risen through the Boeing ranks, including 15 years as an engineer, then manager, in the Puget Sound region.
“It is a good sign, that he’s had a long career at the Boeing Company, started as an intern, and was in one of our bargaining units for a number of years,” said Bill Dugovich, spokesman for Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, which represents engineers and technical workers.
Muilenburg never actually joined the union, however, unlike former Boeing CEO Phil Condit. Muilenburg’s attitude toward SPEEA is of special concern to the union because the current four-year contract expires in October 2016.
The Machinists struck a positive note on the appointment Tuesday.
“We welcome Boeing’s announcement that Dennis Muilenberg is taking over as CEO,” the union said, “and encourage him to invest in the workforce and recognize the value of each and every employee at the Boeing Company.”
But Machinists Local A President Les Mullen said many on the factory floor are “apprehensive.” “They want to see what he’s going to do,” Mullen said. “Now that he’s the one making the decisions, how will he proceed?”
But Saj Ahmad, chief analyst for StrategicAero Research in London, said he’s doubtful Muilenburg will change the tone markedly.
“Muilenburg, in my view and from my discussions with him in the past, it appears he’ll be just as robust on labor relations as McNerney was,” Ahmad said. “Like it or not, McNerney’s strategy on tackling labor angst has worked and I doubt Muilenburg would change that.”
(Steve Wilhelm - Puget Sound Business Journal)