Boeing Locks Out Firefighters Amid Wage Dispute, Sparks Outrage


The Washington-based aircraft manufacturing kingpin, Boeing, has found itself embroiled in a tempestuous labor dispute. Following a fruitless round of negotiations with the firefighters’ union over wage issues, the company made an abrupt move to lockout its private firefighting force.

The private force – approximately 125 seasoned firefighters – provides round-the-clock protection to airplane facilities housed in the Seattle region and a sizeable facility approximately 170 miles away in Central Washington. These firefighters work practised hands, serving as first responders to fires and medical emergencies. Their crucial role also involves collaborating with local fire departments in times of dire need.

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“Despite considerable time and effort spent in discussions aided by an impartial federal mediator, we find ourselves at an impasse,” commented Boeing. Noting that no agreement had been forged with the union, the company assertively locked out union members. Highly skilled firefighter replacements were swiftly ushered in as part of an implemented contingency plan, ensuring constant vigilance at Boeing’s facilities.

However, the recent turn of events has sparked public outcry and raised concerns. The International Association of Firefighters union, on saturday, denounced Boeing’s tactics as a blatant attempt to “punish, intimidate and bully” their firefighters into accepting a contract that doesn’t sufficiently value their vital work.

Edward Kelly, the IAFF’s general president lashed back, calling Boeing out for prioritizing “corporate greed over safety.” He argued that the lockout not only jeopardized the union members, but had also recklessly exposed Washington facilities to unnecessary risk.

Yet, in the face of mounting criticism, Boeing appeared unflustered, contending that the lockout would have “zero impact” on its operations.

This labor discontent adds another layer of complexity to Boeing’s existing challenges. Navigating a slick field of losses — more than $24 billion since the start of 2019 — and renewed scrutiny over quality and safety in its manufacturing, the aircraft titan has been facing a turbulent period. One notable example being a door plug defectively ejecting from an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 Max over Oregon in January.

In terms of negotiation specifics, tension mounts as Boeing and the union remain squarely at loggerheads. The company’s most recent offer entails general annual wage hikes and a new payment structure for firefighters operating on a 24-hour shift schedule. The net result of which would be an average wage increase of roughly $21,000 a year. As it stands, the average firefighter’s annual paycheck was $91,000, as reported by Boeing.

Despite such offerings, the union is steadfast in its stance. Remarking that employing in-house firefighters has saved Boeing billions in insurance costs, the union is advocating for a sizeable 40% to 50% raise. Boeing’s proposed pay increase, the union contends, would still see its members earning a good 20% to 30% less than firefighters stationed where Boeing plants are located. A significant point of contention specifically revolves around a proposed wait-raise. Boeing is insisting firefighters clock in 19 years of service before reaching top pay scale, a notable increment from their current 14 years requirement, while the union is proposing a reduced five-years span.