Yet there is also the possibility that the sudden drop in demand for Boeing products leads to layoffs. In that event, executives would consult an internal ranking system known as the “retention totem,” a reference to the totem poles of the Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, where Boeing was founded and still has its largest presence.
In the system, employees are put in one of three categories, from R1 to R3, based on how essential they are to the business, three people familiar with the system said. The lower the number, the less likely one is to get fired.
Mass layoffs would put Boeing in a very difficult position. Restarting production won’t be easy if the company has lost a significant chunk of its skilled mechanics and engineers.
But the company will need to cut costs and is running out of other options.
Borders are closing, and Mr. Trump has raised the prospect of cordoning off Washington, a move that would paralyze Boeing’s production. And with airlines around the world facing imminent bankruptcy, Boeing may soon face an abrupt drop in revenue.
Fifteen Boeing employees around the country have tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new virus. Suppliers are already having problems delivering necessary parts to Boeing; one, a major manufacturer of parts for the company’s 787 and 767 planes, is based in northern Italy, an epicenter of the outbreak. General Electric, which supplies 90 percent of all Boeing engines, also gets parts in Italy.
Mr. Trump is seeking a $850 billion stimulus package, which is expected to include relief for the aviation industry. For Boeing, the most likely result is that the government guarantees billions of dollars in loans that big banks would make to the company. If Boeing’s revenues run dry for months, such loans could allow it to keep paying some employees and suppliers.
Even before the prospect of government relief was on the table, Boeing was taking steps to fortify its finances. Last week, it drew down a credit line of $13.8 billion.