The Boeing Whistleblower Crisis - Whistleblower Retaliation
Apr 2024
5 minutes

The Boeing Whistleblower Crisis - Whistleblower Retaliation

Two New Whistleblower’s

In the recent Senate panel, a Boeing engineer expressed grave concerns over the company’s practices, highlighting potential dangers inherent in the shortcuts being taken in the production of the 787 Dreamliner. The engineer warned that if unchecked, these practices could lead to catastrophic failures. This testimony underscores ongoing issues within Boeing's culture where production speed seems to have been prioritized over meticulous quality control.

Sam Salehpour, the aforementioned quality engineer at Boeing, has brought serious allegations against the company, accusing it of negligence in addressing safety concerns related to the production of its aircraft. Speaking at a Senate hearing, Salehpour detailed his experiences of intimidation and retaliation within the company, which began after he raised issues about the manufacturing processes of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and later, the Boeing 777. Despite his attempts to engage with company officials to discuss these matters, Salehpour claimed that he was met with threats and was involuntarily transferred out of the 787 program as a punitive measure.

Another whistleblower, Quality-oversight manager Merle Meyers, worked at Boeing for 30 years. He noticed a slip in standards after Boeing’s merger with McDonnell Douglas. Mr. Meyers said he was particularly troubled that workers at Boeing’s Everett factory felt such pressure to keep production moving that they would find unauthorized ways to get the parts they needed. That included taking parts assigned to other planes, taking newly delivered components before they could be inspected or logged, or trying to recover parts that had been scrapped. To Mr. Meyers, managers did little to dissuade or punish workers from such shortcuts.

“What gets rewarded gets repeated,” he said. “People get promoted by hustling parts.”

Later, his team found numerous instances 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 removed the associated paperwork and shipping crates. In another instance, Mr. Meyers shared with corporate investigators an annotated email chain showing that dozens of 787 bulkheads had been removed from a receiving area without anyone’s approval.

Lapses in Manufacturing Practice

The grounding of the 737 Max 9 was triggered by an incident on January 5, where a door plug blew off an Alaska Airlines flight, causing a serious safety hazard. This incident has led to investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Justice Department, potentially exposing Boeing to criminal liability. These probes are part of broader concerns exacerbated by previous fatal crashes of the 737 Max in 2018 and 2019 linked to design flaws.

The FAA audit raised eyebrows with revelations concerning Boeing’s manufacturing processes for the 737 Max. Reports surfaced of a major supplier using unconventional materials like Dawn dish soap and a hotel key card in its manufacturing process. These practices, while seemingly benign, raise questions about the overall rigor and appropriateness of the methods employed in critical manufacturing stages.

Salehpour's concerns were not limited to the Dreamliner. After being moved to the 777 program, he immediately identified similar alarming safety issues. One significant problem he highlighted was the misalignment of fuselage sections during assembly, affecting hundreds of aircraft. According to Salehpour, Boeing’s method of force-aligning these sections could potentially damage parts and diminish the aircraft's lifespan. Despite his efforts to bring these issues to light, he stated that Boeing management ignored his reports and continued to sideline him from critical safety discussions.

Whistleblower Retaliation Hostile Work Environment and Threats of Violence

The environment described by Salehpour paints a troubling picture of Boeing’s workplace culture, particularly for those who attempt to report on and rectify safety oversights. Sahelpour recounted an instance where a supervisor allegedly threatened him with violence in response to his attempts to address the engineering defects. These threats, he claims, are indicative of a broader issue within Boeing’s approach to safety and transparency, suggesting a systemic problem that goes beyond individual aircraft programs.

On the other hand, Merle Meyers frequently reported his safety concerns to Boeing's corporate investigators, particularly when he believed the issues were systemic and required significant intervention. However, his efforts often met with disappointment as his communications, documented in emails he later shared with The New York Times, reveal that the investigators sometimes dismissed his findings as unsubstantiated. Despite these setbacks, Meyers occasionally managed to initiate further actions through persistent advocacy.

By the previous year, Meyers had been officially reprimanded, with accusations of producing "defective work product, service or output," although the specifics of the allegations were not clarified in the reprimand. Feeling undervalued and concerned about his future at Boeing, Meyers perceived that his continued presence at the company might lead to further marginalization or forced exit. Consequently, when offered a financial settlement to leave, he accepted it, although this exit was far from the retirement he had once envisioned for himself.

A recent Forbes article brought to light the existing weaknesses in the FAA's whistleblowing protections. In 2022, two engineers advocated for a review of computer networks to ensure compliance with FAA advisories. However, Boeing managers strongly objected to the proposal, citing "costs" and "production delays" as reasons, despite previous reviews having successfully highlighted multiple weaknesses. Subsequently, both engineers received negative performance evaluations, which would have disqualified them from raises and promotions, putting them at risk for layoffs. Even after a review was conducted, with their manager admitting that the negative reviews were at the request of the 777 and 787 managers, Boeing refused to change the engineers' performance evaluations. As a result, one engineer left the company in disgust.

Leadership Overhaul in Response to Safety Crisis

In response to what has become its most significant safety crisis in years, Boeing has announced an overhaul of its leadership. This includes the planned departure of its CEO, Dave Calhoun, by the end of the year. These sweeping changes signal a potentially new direction for Boeing as it seeks to navigate through these turbulent times and restore confidence among its stakeholders.

Other Projects under scrutiny

As NASA prepares for the first crewed launch of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft, astronauts Barry "Butch" Wilmore and Suni Williams have started their pre-flight quarantine. Boeing's path to this milestone has been fraught with difficulties, beginning with a failed uncrewed test flight in 2019 that did not reach the ISS due to technical issues. Despite a successful second uncrewed test in 2022 and ongoing modifications that resolved earlier problems, new issues emerged in 2023. These included the discovery that the Starliner's parachute suspension lines could handle less load than required and concerns about the use of flammable materials in its construction.

Protecting Whistleblowers

The testimonies of Sam Salehpour and Merle Meyers underscore the critical need for robust whistleblower protections. Individuals who are considering coming forward with information about unethical practices within their organizations, particularly those as crucial as aerospace manufacturing, should have the assurance of safety and confidentiality. Confide’s anonymous whistleblowing solution offers a secure and supportive environment for whistleblowers to share their concerns without fear of retaliation. For those committed to transparency and safety, Confide's whistleblowing services provide essential support, ensuring that their voices are heard and that they can contribute to meaningful change within their industries.

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