SPEEA wins reinstatement for seven Boeing pilots in labor case

The Boeing Company violated federal labor law by retaliating against seven of its instructor pilots who had engaged in union activity, a federal administrative law judge ruled.

“I find that Boeing was motivated by anti-union animus and was punishing its (Flight Training Airplane) pilots for their union activity in April 2020,” Judge Gerald M. Etchingham wrote in his order issued March 22 for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). “No other rational explanation exists.”
The judge ordered Boeing to offer the seven pilots their jobs back, pay them for lost wages and benefits and restore their positions – which had been outsourced to non-union contractors – to the company’s full-time, union-represented payroll.

“The ruling is a resounding win for our union-represented pilots,” said Ray Goforth, the executive director of SPEEA, IFPTE Local 2001, which represented the Boeing instructor pilots before their work was outsourced to third-party contractors. The union pursued the federal complaint on their behalf.

“Boeing systematically dismantled the pilot training safety system that had served the company and its customers well for decades,” Goforth said. “They stripped the safety system for parts, pocketed the savings, then contracted out the remaining pieces to pretend that no substantive changes had occurred.”

Link to NLRB ruling


In his order, Etchingham ruled that Boeing “looks to have prioritized cutting costs and ridding itself of a group of union instructor pilots it has historically treated badly.”

The pilots were employed by Boeing to teach airline flight crews how to fly the company’s planes. They were based at Boeing’s former Commercial Airplanes headquarters in Renton, Washington. One of their primary jobs was to deliver newly built aircraft to customers. They would then spend one to two months flying side by side with the airline pilots to train them how to fly their new planes.

These Flight Training Airplane (FTA) pilots, along with Flight Technical and Safety (FTS) pilots, make up the SPEEA Pilots and Instructors Unit (SPIU). This unit would work with airlines to develop “gold-standard” training plans for each customer airline.

Boeing and SPEEA negotiated the first joint contract for the two pilot groups in 2013. During those talks, Boeing’s negotiators announced the company was moving the jobs of about 20 of those pilots to Miami, which would take them out of the bargaining unit. After years of bad treatment by management, many expressed a feeling of having a target on their back due to their status as union members. Discouraged, some pilots filed a motion to decertify their union in 2015. Despite active encouragement from Boeing management, that motion failed.

After this failed decertification, Boeing aggressively accelerated its hiring of third-party temp pilots to take over some of the work the union pilots were doing. Beginning in 2018, Boeing conducted “gross and explicit salary discrimination,” between its non-union and union pilots, according to the ruling.
This led to several of the unionized pilots transferring out of SPIU to take better-paying, non-union pilot jobs within Boeing, further eroding the number of SPIU-represented pilots.

In 2019, Boeing announced plans to hire the first new FTA pilots to the group in nearly six years. This was part of a plan where FTA would provide training and oversight to the work of the third-party contractor pilots and ensure they were up to a Boeing “gold-standard” level. As Boeing’s 737 MAX program began to resume deliveries after the grounding of the aircraft and the COVID-19 pandemic, “volumes of work” was available to these pilots, the judge wrote.

In 2020, the pilots – citing frustration over the gaps in pay and access to flying between them and their non-union counterparts – held a second vote on whether to decertify their union, again with support from Boeing management.

Again, the vote failed. Boeing promptly announced it was cancelling the plan to bring pilot training back to the “gold standard.” Instead, the company would lay off the seven unionized instructor pilots, and then hire 70 contractor pilots to replace them.

Boeing argued these moves were financially motivated. Judge Etchingham said he found “Boeing’s business justification for the layoff of seven FTA pilots to be entirely lacking in credibility and comprised entirely of pretext.

“I do not think Boeing would normally sacrifice safety and quality of its instructor pilots to save money,” he wrote, “especially after the 2018 and 2019 MAX crashes put the company under a microscope.”


“Boeing’s use of the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext for its layoff of the seven FTA pilots is a classic bait-and-switch guise, where for years Boeing whittled away this small group of gold-standard trained, blue-badge employees with its anti-union animus and wore down the (union) pilots,” Etchingham wrote.

Along with reinstating the seven pilots with full back pay and benefits, dating back to 2020, Boeing must also reimburse the pilots for any expenses spent trying to get new jobs and any adverse tax implications from their illegal layoff, the judge ruled.

At its Commercial Airplane facilities in the Seattle/Renton area, Boeing must also post notices telling workers it will “not lay you off because of your union membership or support” and pledging the company will “not divert your work to a subcontractor” because of union activities.

SPEEA represents more than 19,000 engineers, scientists, pilots and technical workers at Boeing in Washington, Kansas, California, Oregon and Utah and Spirit AeroSystems facilities in Kansas.

Media contacts:

  • SPEEA Executive Director Ray Goforth – (253) 315-1364
  • SPEEA Senior Communications Specialist Bryan Corliss – (425) 327-3512