Machinists use IAM benefits to help Boeing save money

EVERETT — The Boeing Co. is making significant improvements to the way 767s are assembled — thanks to a trio of IAM members who used their union-negotiated benefits to get college training.

Villalaz, Lemke, Wilson and Kros.

The group has already identified — and helped implement — steps that have resulted in six-figure savings for the company. Now managers are coming to them, asking for their expertise in resolving production bottlenecks.

Getting the training and learning to speak management’s language has made a huge difference, said Nathan Kros, one of the three members of Machinists Union District Lodge 751.

“The hardest part of fixing the problem is getting management to work with you,” he said. “If you don’t know how to get management to work with you, you don’t know how to fix the problem.”

Kros, Jose Villalaz and Duane Lemke all used benefits provided by IAM/Boeing Joint Programs to take Lean/Six Sigma green belt training courses through the University of Washington-Tacoma. For their final class project, they applied the lessons they learned to problems they face every day as third-shift structures mechanics on the 767 program.

Six Sigma is a management concept well-known in Corporate America. It presents a formal, organized process for studying problems, brainstorming solutions and implementing them.

Senior Boing managers are big fans of Six Sigma, at least on the corporate level. They’ve brought in consultants and trained in-house experts as part of several efforts to make manufacturing more lean and efficient.

But the problem has been that no one’s tried to apply those Six Sigma processes at the shop-floor level, where holes are drilled and fasteners installed, said Lemke.

“They need to have people go to work with the mechanics, spend time with the mechanics and feel their pain,” he said.

That’s the value of having Machinists who are trained in Six Sigma techniques, said tina Wilson, a Joint Programs programs coordinator in Everett. Kros, Villalaz and Lemke can see the problems their fellow Machinists are having, and they can explain both those problems — and the money they’re costing the company — to their managers.

“We can show them the data and how much money they’re wasting,” Lemke said.

“You’re speaking the same language that management hears,” Wilson added.

In the past year, there’s been a resurgence in the 767 program, fueled by military orders for the KC-46 tanker, and by commercial orders from airlines that need mid-sized, long-range jets and can’t wait for a 787 delivery slot.

Given that, implementing 767 production improvements is a high priority, the three Machinists said.

“It’s very important that we get all this done before the military actually gets here,” Lemke said. “Next year, when we kick off the tanker, that’s where we want to be.”

Thanks in part to the Machinists who got their training paid through union benefits, Boeing is that much closer to this goal.

“The union is definitely a partner in this,” Lemke said.

Originally formed in 1935 to represent hourly workers at Boeing, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers now represents more than 32,000 working men and women at 48 employers across Washington, Oregon and California.

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