Boeing Stressed Over Aging Workforce

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) -- The top official at Boeing Co.'s former commercial airplane operations in Kansas and Oklahoma acknowledged the aerospace giant had concerns about the age of its work force when it was trying to sell those facilities, according to court documents in an age-discrimination lawsuit.

Former Boeing workers have sued the Chicago-based company and Spirit Aerosystems Inc., which was formed after its Canada-based parent, Onex Corp., bought Boeing's commercial aircraft operations in Wichita and Tulsa and McAlester, Okla. They claim they lost their jobs because of their age and are seeking class-action status for the lawsuit, which was filed in December 2005.

According to court documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Wichita, depositions from Jeff Turner, a former Boeing manager and current CEO of Spirit, and other company officials indicated that Boeing and Spirit considered older workers to be more expensive.

"An aging work force in and of itself is -- is difficult, problematic for the business, for sustaining the business long-term," Turner said in his deposition.

Spirit spokeswoman Debbie Gann declined to comment Wednesday, noting the litigation is ongoing. Boeing spokesman Jarrod Bartlett said he could not comment because he had not seen the court documents. An attorney for the companies did not return a message.

In earlier court papers, the companies denied any employment decisions were made based on age, although Boeing acknowledged that it evaluated the correlation between wages and age brackets.

The former workers say Boeing studied how it could cut costs associated with older workers and that Spirit adopted their plans to reduce the age of the work force. When Boeing sold the Kansas and Oklahoma operations, it laid off all 9,300 workers at those plants. Onex then asked people to reapply for their jobs. At the time, Onex, which is not part of the lawsuit, said it had hired more than 8,000 former Boeing workers.

The lawsuit claims Spirit used that process to get rid of older employees. Internal Spirit documents noted that workers ages 45 to 54 were considered the most expensive, according to the court filing, and the company needed "to move employees out of this age range."

The lawsuit was filed by 90 former employees. More than 700 additional ex-workers have since asked to join the suit.

The former workers are seeking their jobs back, along with unspecified compensatory damages and at least $1.5 billion in punitive damages.

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