The Debate over Corporate Social Responsibility

By Steve May; George Cheney et al. | Go to book overview

15

Corporate Social Responsibility
as Oxymoron
Universalization and Exploitation at Boeing
DANA L. CLOUD

At some point in this brave new business world, the con-
cerns of the people should be placed first… .

Keith Thomas, Weight Plus Friction Equals Wear

Since 1997, I have been studying the situation of workers at the Boeing Company in Wichita, Kansas, and the Puget Sound area (Everett and Seattle, Washington). Drawing from about 40 hours of interviews with dissident unionists at this company, my project has focused mainly on ordinary workers' experience of and resistance to layoffs, outsourcing, benefits reduction, and the implementation of “new” management models. I tell the story of worker resistance not only to the company but also to a top-heavy and conservative union leadership. This project shows that many workers at Boeing understand corporate responsibility in ways that could inform and deepen corporate social responsibility (CSR) research.Consider the following instances of corporate conduct at Boeing over the last several years. Which among them are the more irresponsible?
March 2005: CEO Harry Stonecipher was forced to resign after an office affair that, according to company statements, was “causing embarrassment to Boeing” (“The End of the Office Affair?” 2005).
February 2005: Toronto-based investment firm Onex purchased Boeing's Wichita manufacturing facility for $1.2 billion, displacing or laying off as many as 10,500 workers (McCormick, 2005). On May 23, 2005, Wichita journalists Lefler and McMillan (2005) reported that workers are waiting to reapply for their jobs and have no voting rights on a proposed union contract cutting wages by 10% and eliminating hospitalization insurance entirely. The company is offering free mental health services to displaced workers.
May 2004: Boeing implemented lean production practices in its operations for the new 7E7 jumbo jet, cutting the number of workers needed for the project from 5,000 to 1,000 and offloading most of the work to overseas and nonunion workplaces (Feldstein, 2004, p. C1; “The 7E7 Difference,” 2004).
2003: Then-CEO Phil Condit resigned after it was revealed that under his watch, Boeing had made questionable deals with the Pentagon, including an $18 billion Pentagon purchase of a hundred 767 tankers. Pentagon official Darleen Bruyun allegedly tipped Boeing off that Airbus had come in with a lower bid for the aircraft. After the alleged tip, Boeing manager Michael Sears offered Bruyun a management position at the company (Holmes, 2003).
2001–2003: Boeing laid off 11,000 workers in Wichita. According to the New York Times, the lives of many Wichita families “unraveled” (Kilborn, 2003).
2001–2002: Boeing engaged in mass layoffs, firing more than 30,000 workers across all of its facilities (Schultz, 2001). In 2002,

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