Boeing CEO Jim McNerney apologized Friday in a companywide message for telling analysts this week that he won't retire after turning 65 because "the heart will still be beating, the employees will still be cowering."
McNerney's message called the remark, made Wednesday at the end of a conference call about the company's quarterly results, "a joke gone bad."
The comment struck some workers as insensitive. Machinists union international president Tom Buffenbarger issued a statement Friday decrying the "unfunny and unnecessary remarks" 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 said.
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Boeing spokesman John Dern said McNerney had earlier communicated directly with some employees who were upset by his comment, and then posted the message for the entire workforce. He said McNerney's message went out before the Machinists called for him to apologize.
McNerney's message says 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."
It continues: "I should have used different words, and I apologize for them. I will definitely be more careful going forward."