A former Boeing Co. flight-line worker says the aerospace giant regularly backdated safety records to hide negligence from auditors, but a company document casts doubt on the allegations.
Kurt Hollensteiner, who worked at Boeing's 787 Dreamliner plant for seven years, said in a lawsuit filed this week that supervisors ordered him to backdate log sheets used to keep up with tools and make sure they are in good repair at the end of each shift.
Those supervisors then fired him for falsifying the documents after he openly showed support for the International Association of Machinists union, according to the lawsuit filed in Charleston County.
During his seven years with Boeing, Hollensteiner said he "was directed to 'catch up' on 50 or more stamps on tool log sheets" the lawsuit states.
"Management would occasionally hold 'stamping parties' when an audit found some of the sheets out of compliance," he alleges.
The documents are audited by Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Management would assign everyone a sheet in order to back-stamp the paperwork to make it look like things were in compliance," according to the lawsuit.
Boeing's internal investigation of the matter showed the backdating was limited to five weeks last year after another employee had been assigned to conduct the first-shift tool inspections but failed to do the work, according to a document obtained by The Post and Courier.
Hollensteiner told Boeing investigators that he backdated the documents after hearing two supervisors having a conversation about the missing documents, according to a letter Boeing sent to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The letter was sent after Hollensteiner filed an age discrimination complaint against the company.
According to the letter, Hollensteiner said one of the supervisors "looked in his direction when the comment was made" and that Hollensteiner interpreted that to mean "he should update the records in preparation for the audit."
Hollensteiner admitted he did so, not because he was uncomfortable saying no to management, but because second- and third-shift documents from that same time period showed there were no tools missing, according to the EEOC letter.
Hollensteiner told Boeing investigators "that if he were faced with the same circumstances ... that he would probably stamp the sheets for first shift as he said 'there was no real risk of losing tools,' " the letter states.
Boeing also fired the supervisor who made the comment to Hollensteiner, the letter states.
In his lawsuit, Hollensteiner said he complained to his supervisors that the backdating practice violated company policies but "complied in fear for losing his job."
Hollensteiner said he had no prior disciplinary action and his firing was due to his support for the union, which he showed by regularly wearing a red wristband with the letters IAM on it.
"The red wristbands were highly visible and could be seen by all management," according to the lawsuit, which says Hollensteiner regularly discussed his support for the union with other employees.
The IAM won an election last year to represent the plant's flight-line workers, but Boeing is appealing the election and is refusing to negotiate with the union. The National Labor Relations Board has not made a ruling on Boeing's appeal.
Hollensteiner's lawsuit is the second filed this month by a former flight-line worker who claims support for the IAM led to his firing. Richard Mester was fired in November purportedly for overlooking a bird strike on a 787-10 engine following a test flight.
Boeing has not filed a response to the lawsuit, but said in a document obtained by The Post and Courier that Mester and two co-workers "missed clear and visible evidence of a bird strike."
That document states another flight-line inspector — described by Boeing as "a strong union supporter" — filed a report documenting the missed bird strike, "noting clearly visible evidence of bird debris, including feathers and blood."
Both Hollensteiner and Mester are seeking unspecified damages.
Boeing has denied union participation played any role in either man's firing.
The lawsuits come amid claims of shoddy production work and fewer quality inspections at the North Charleston campus, which builds the Dreamliner along with another Boeing site in Everett, Wash.
Workers at the North Charleston site told The Post and Courier that repeated production mistakes are due to management's focus on profits and deadlines rather than safety. Boeing also is relying on mechanics to inspect their own work instead of having a second person do the review.
Boeing has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of two fatal 737 MAX crashes that killed 346 people in recent months. A software problem is suspected as the cause of the 737 MAX accidents, and the FAA has grounded the planes that are built in Renton, Wash.
Boeing is one of the Charleston region’s biggest employers, with about 7,000 workers and contractors at the Dreamliner assembly campus and other facilities in North Charleston.