Boeing extends closure of Washington state production facilities because of coronavirus

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Several Boeing 777X aircraft are seen in various stages of production during a media tour of the Boeing 777X at the Boeing production facility in Everett, Washington, U.S., February 27, 2019. Picture taken February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Boeing initially announced the closure of its Washington assembly lines on March 23, and had expected to keep them shut for two weeks. Now, Boeing said operations will continue to be put on hold “until further notice,” yet another example of the huge hit the travel industry has taken amid the coronavirus outbreak.

“These actions are being taken in light of the company’s continuing focus on the health and safety of employees, current assessment of the spread of Covid-19 in Washington state, the reliability of the supply chain and additional recommendations from government health authorities,” the company said in a release Sunday.

Boeing had previously asked all employees who could work from home to do so, but that was not possible for people who work on assembly lines. The suspension of work at plants in Washington occurred after the coronavirus-related death of an employee in Everett, Washington.

The company said in its initial announcement last month that affected workers would be paid during the shutdown.

As for the extended suspension, affected workers will receive 10 days worth of pay to account for the 10 working days from the originally planned closure, and then will have to use PTO days for the continued closure, according to a Boeing spokesperson. If their available PTO days run out, they will have to use “absent without pay” days, at which point they will be eligible for unemployment benefits. The spokesperson said affected workers will continue to receive medical benefits throughout the shut down.

During the suspension, Boeing is implementing safety measures including visual cues to encourage physical distancing, more frequent cleaning of work and common areas and staggering shift times for essential workers who must continue coming to work during the closure, and which will be in place when operations can get up and running again.

Boeing on Friday also announced a halt in production operations at one of its helicopter plants outside of Philadelphia.

On Wednesday the United Auto Workers union, which represents the Boeing hourly employees in Philadelphia, told members there have been two confirmed coronavirus cases among employees there. While one was working remotely, one had been continuing to work at the factory. No further information on their condition was revealed.

Unrelated to coronavirus, Boeing had also previously shut down production of its assembly line in Renton, Washington, where the Boeing 737 Max had been built. That plane was grounded last year following two fatal crashes, and while Boeing continued to build the plane throughout the rest of 2019, it temporarily shut the line in January. The employees who worked on the Max had not been laid off but were reassigned to other duties.

By Clare Duffy, CNN Business

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