How much job info will Boeing give out?

Sunday, March 13th 2005, 2:43 pm
By: News On 6

Wichita (AP)_About 8,100 Boeing Wichita employees received something extra with their 60-day layoff notices last week -- a waiver to sign allowing Boeing to release their personnel information to Onex Corp.

The actions -- typical in transactions of this kind, experts say --are part of the transition process related to the sale of Boeing's commercial operations in Wichita and Oklahoma to the Toronto-based investment firm.

Boeing says employees must be terminated by the seller and apply for employment with the new buyer.

Signing the release begins the employment process with Onex and indicates "you are interested in joining the new company," Boeing said in a memo to employees last week.

The process may be convenient for employers who need to hire thousands of workers quickly. And workers can avoid applications and interviews. But could it put employees at a disadvantage?

Employment experts say it depends on the level of disclosure allowed by the waiver. If past disciplinary actions are included, it could follow you to the new employer," said Stan Churchill, a Wichita lawyer who has practiced employment law for more than 30 years.

Onex managing director Nigel Wright stressed that the company will not receive information on disciplinary actions, performance reviews or medical records.

Onex is seeking basic information such as an employee's name, contact information, years of service and pay category.

"How else would we make (employment) offers?" Wright said.

A memo to employees states that Boeing will release that basic information. But the waiver's wording says that the worker authorizes Boeing to provide the buyer with "any and all information concerning my employment with Boeing," except for medical information.

That gives them the right to release any information they want to, except for the medical data, said Bob Brewer, Midwest director of the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace.

The waiver also says the buyer wants to review the file "for the purpose of deciding whether to make job offers to them."

Churchill said the waiver language is similar to that found on any employment application.

Still, he said. "I would understand why an employee would have a legitimate question or concern. You would have to go on good faith that... they mean what they say, and they'll follow the norm, which is to give out the more limited information."

Employers are reluctant to give out much information on current or former employees, said Gaye Tibbets, a lawyer specializing in employment law at Hite Fanning & Honeyman in Wichita.

In fact, many employers verify only employment dates, pay, job descriptions and duties and wage histories, Tibbets said.

It's common that in a sale, a new owner wants employment files, in part, because it expedites the hiring process, Churchill said.

Wright said Onex wants to hire the "overwhelming majority" of Boeing workers affected by the sale. But Onex officials have not yet said exactly how many it expects to hire.

That uncertainty, coupled with layoff notices and the waiver request is causing a lot of anxiety among Boeing workers, Brewer said.

SPEEA has asked for more information about the waiver language, which "opens the door completely" to the release of information, Brewer said.

And with the layoff notices issued on Friday, now "the reality sets in," Brewer said. And employees do not yet know whether they will have a job with the new company.

But William Alderman, president and founder of privately owned investment bank Alderman & Co., says most workers needn't fear for their jobs. The bank gives financial advice to the aerospace and defense industries.

"If you have been a valued employee to the previous company, there is no reason to think that the new employer would think any differently of you," Alderman said.

The buyer will be focused on profitability and efficiency of operations, Alderman said. In that case, outdated or redundant positions are likely to be reviewed.

"If you had a job that was effectively not needed or you were inefficient (at it), now is the time when it's going to become apparent and become a problem for you," he said.

Alderman thinks those jobs could be at risk. Workers doing a good job at a needed job, "have almost nothing to worry about," he said.