Boeing Locks Out Firefighters in Contract Dispute, and Biden Weighs In

Boeing Locks Out Firefighters in Contract Dispute, and Biden Weighs In

Contract negotiations between Boeing and a union representing firefighters at some of the company’s commercial plane factories broke down last week. On Thursday, President Biden called on both sides to return to the negotiating table.

The company locked out about 125 workers represented by a chapter of the International Association of Firefighters union on Saturday after failing to reach an agreement on a new contract, said Casey Yeager, the president of the union chapter, I-66. The previous contract expired on March 1, but the firefighters, who work at Boeing’s plants in the Seattle area, continued to work under its provisions.

The talks, conducted with the help of a federal mediator, stalled after the firefighters rejected what the company had said was its final offer. The two sides met as recently as Friday night, minutes before the lockout began, Mr. Yeager said.

“When we left our negotiating room the other day, we had a very firm discussion that we were willing to continue to bargain,” he said. “They can call us at any point and we will bargain, but at this time they have not sent any information to us at all.”

On Thursday, Mr. Biden expressed support for the firefighters, saying he was “concerned” that Boeing had locked them out. “Collective bargaining is a right that helps employers and employees,” he said on X, adding, “I encourage folks to return to the table to secure a deal that benefits Boeing and gets these firefighters the pay and benefits they deserve.”

Mr. Biden is expected to visit the Seattle area on Friday for campaign events.

Boeing, which is a big supplier to the military and NASA in addition to making jets for airlines, said it still hoped to reach a deal with the union but did not respond directly to Mr. Biden.

“We remain committed to securing an agreement,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our offer provides significant pay increases and increased benefits. The union should allow our employees to vote our offer, which was presented before the lockout.”

Under the rejected offer, the firefighters would have to work 19 years before reaching the company’s highest pay scale, up from 14 years in the current contract, Mr. Yeager said. Fire departments in the area offer higher starting salaries and allow firefighters to climb to top pay in three to five years, he said.

Boeing’s firefighters earned an average of $91,000 last year, according to the company, which said its contract offer would raise that figure to $112,000 in the first year. Boeing also said its compensation was competitive with other industrial fire departments.

Boeing’s firefighters respond to accidents and medical emergencies at the company’s Seattle-area factories, where they are expected to respond quickly to prevent the spread of fires and possibly toxic emissions, coordinating with municipal firefighters. They also provide support during aircraft refueling and when planes take off and land, Mr. Yeager said.

The company said the firefighters working in place of those who were locked out had successfully responded to all calls that had come in.

The firefighters have been picketing at Boeing’s facilities this week, joined by other firefighters and supporters.

The dispute is unfolding as Boeing and its largest union, which represents more than 30,000 employees, engage in contract talks. Those negotiations have only just begun but are expected to accelerate over the summer before the current contract expires in September.

That union, District Lodge 751 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, is seeking a more than 40 percent pay raise over three years, alongside improvements to job security and medical and retirement benefits. The union is also seeking a seat on Boeing’s board.

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