Interview: The Boeing factory worker

A worker at Boeing South Carolina's 787 factory reveals his concerns about drug abuse and production errors.

    Outside Boeing's plant in Charleston, South Carolina [Al Jazeera]
    Outside Boeing's plant in Charleston, South Carolina [Al Jazeera]

    This is an extended version of an interview with a worker at Boeing South Carolina, which assembles the 787 "Dreamliner". He contacted us in 2014 with concerns about the quality of work in the plant and drug abuse among the workforce. At his request, we are not revealing his identity.

    Drug abuse

    I've seen a lot of things that should not go on at an airplane plant… people talking about doing drugs, looking for drugs, specifically marijuana, methamphetamine, cocaine.

    I have seen Oxycontin and pharmaceuticals passed between workers. I have never seen marijuana or anything like that passed. I know that there are several people that do sell drugs inside the plant. I've never actually seen a transaction take place but I have seen pharmaceuticals passed from basically hand to mouth between co-workers.

    I've seen people who I presume to be on meth, because they are just out of their mind, eyes wide open.

    I know several of my friends that have worked there for the entire time they've been here - eight years - that have not been tested one time. And with it being random they should have come up at least once. Between all the people I know, one person should have come up at least once.

    I have never seen anybody or heard of anybody having to take a random urine analysis… random drugs tests just don’t happen.

    Boeing gave Al Jazeera the following statement: "Boeing South Carolina follows the Boeing enterprise-wide Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Program policy. Drug testing of employees is done in accordance with Boeing policy and procedures across all facilities in accordance with applicable laws. Boeing thoroughly investigates any employee reports of policy deviation, and appropriate corrective action is taken if needed."

    Alerting managers

    I talked to my manager and he asked me why do I think we have so many NCs on the plane, which are non-conformances, which are errors, which are repaired. But why do I think we have so many NCs?

    I hope that this will bring light to the situation, that this is a big enough platform, that people will take it seriously because this is a very serious problem.

    - Worker at Boeing's South Carolina Plant

    And I told him, "People are whacked out of their f***ing mind on… drugs." And he looked at me floored and said "Do you really think so?" I said, "I know so. I know for a fact."

    He said, "Well how do you know?" and I went to explain to him, that I've seen it, that it's all around us all the time, that I don't understand how he can't see it. He looked puzzled, and that's the last I ever heard of it and that’s the last time he ever asked me for my opinion.

    It's possible [Boeing managers] don't know. But it's their job to know. When you see things going wrong with the airplane, and huge mistakes happening, there's no investigation into what happened. It's simple mistakes that should never happen, that turn into thousands of dollars worth of mistakes, because something as simple as hanging something backwards never should happen.

    One of the customers has said they will no longer accept planes from Charleston due to quality issues. They will only accept final assembly done in Everett, Washington.

    Boeing notes: "No airplane orders have been cancelled as a result of where they are built, nor has any customer stipulated where they want their aircraft built whether that’s Everett or South Carolina. We have delivered South Carolina-built airplanes from the Everett Delivery Center and have delivered Everett-built airplanes from the South Carolina Delivery Center. We will continue to enjoy this flexibility as production requirements dictate. We can state no orders have been cancelled as a result of where airplanes are built or delivered."

    Blowing the whistle

    I hope that this will bring light to the situation, that this is a big enough platform, that people will take it seriously because this is a very serious problem.

    Like I've said, it’s 300 souls on the plane… their lives, it's bigger than me.

    I just hope people believe what I’ve said. I have nothing to gain off this. There’s no reason for me to even do this besides the fact that it eats at me.

    I have family that flies, and they think I’m joking when I tell them, "Are you on a 787?" "No, I’m not." It’s not a joke. It’s really a concern of mine.

    Boeing adds: "787 airplanes delivered from both South Carolina and Washington final assembly and delivery operations meet the highest safety and quality standards that are verified through robust test, verification and inspection processes. Boeing uses one common FAA-approved 787 production and quality system. Boeing is delivering high-quality 787 Dreamliners from both Everett and North Charleston that are performing well and to customers’ expectations.

    "The quality of 787s built by the teams in Everett and North Charleston are identical. By U.S. Federal Aviation Administration regulation, the workforce at both sites follow the same detailed build instructions and use the same tools and processes. There is one approved 787 production and quality system that holds both Everett and South Carolina to the highest standards and our in-service experience demonstrates the parity of airplanes built at the two sites."

    Read Boeing's full responses

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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