Unions, lawmakers protest Boeing firefighter lockout

By Thomson Reuters May 13, 2024 | 6:17 PM

By David Shepardson

ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) – Union leaders and U.S. lawmakers on Monday criticized Boeing’s lockout of its unionized firefighters and urged the planemaker to reach a contract deal.

Earlier this month, Boeing locked out about 130 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-66 who rejected two contract offers – a move that last week drew the concern of President Joe Biden.

At a rally outside Boeing headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, IAFF President Edward Kelly, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Representative Val Hoyle urged Boeing to make a deal.

“We want to get a deal. We just want to be treated fairly,” Kelly told Reuters, who said Boeing wants firefighters to work nearly 20 years before reaching top pay but added he is hopeful talks will soon resume.

“If they can break us and set a pattern, that will then translate into the contract of the larger unions. That’s where the real savings are.”

Hoyle, a Democrat, said she hopes Boeing will come to the table and “do the right thing. They prioritize safety and they invest in their workforce.”

On social media, Democratic Senator John Fetterman said Monday “Boeing should focus on keeping critical safety workers and paying dignified wages, particularly given their recent safety and quality control issues where these safety workers may be needed.”

Boeing, which did not immediately comment Monday, said last week its contract offer to increase firefighters’ average take-home pay from $91,000 to $112,000 in the first year remains on the table.

“We remain committed to securing an agreement,” Boeing said. “The union should allow our employees to vote (on) our offer, which was presented before the lockout.”

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) is separately negotiating a new contract on behalf of over 30,000 workers who build Boeing’s 737 MAX jets, at a time when the planemaker needs to ramp up production.

Shuler said Boeing “is looking to establish a pattern and if we can start here with the firefighters it might trickle over to a bigger impact with another union.”

She added having skilled firefighters was crucial for Boeing. “What makes the company safer ultimately makes the company more trusted and more profitable,” Shuler said.

Boeing 737 MAX jetliner production has fallen sharply as U.S. regulators step up factory checks following a blowout on a new Alaska Airlines 737 MAX 9 in January, blamed on an assembly error.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates)