SEATTLE - Boeing Co. CEO Jim McNerney apologized Friday for saying the aerospace giant's employees were "cowering" during his tenure, a comment one union official called "a new low" in the company's relationship with workers.
McNerney made the remark during a Wednesday call with analysts when he was asked if he is thinking about retiring after he turns 65 next month. McNerney said he won't retire because "the heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering," The Seattle Times reported.
In an apology sent companywide, McNerney said the comment made during a call about the company's quarterly results was a "joke gone bad."
Boeing employees and union leaders didn't find it funny.
Machinists union international President Tom Buffenbarger issued a statement Friday saying the "unfunny and unnecessary remarks" serve as a "reminder that the Jack Welch style of anti-personnel management is still alive and well at Boeing."
"If he is able to get his foot out of his mouth, the very next thing we hear from Mr. McNerney should be a sincere apology to all employees at Boeing," Buffenbarger added.
Jon Holden, president of Machinists' District 751, described it as "a new low" in employee-company relations. The union that represents engineers, the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, posted a printable, foldable poster on their website saying, "If I'm away from my desk, then I must be cowering somewhere. Please leave a note."
Boeing spokesman John Dern said McNerney apologized before the unions called for an apology.
The CEO's message said in part: "I was simply trying to make light of my age and tenure at the company on a question that I have been asked at least a dozen times over the past several weeks alone. ... There was no intent to slight anyone but myself, and the last thing on my mind was to characterize my relationship with Boeing employees in any negative way.
"I should have used different words, and I apologize for them," the message said. "I will definitely be more careful going forward."