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Boeing Locks Out Its Firefighters In Labor Dispute

Boeing locked out 125 unionized firefighters and emergency responders from their jobs in Washington state this weekend as the two sides battle over a new four-year contract.

The aircraft manufacturer and the workers’ union, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-66, have been negotiating since February. Boeing forced the workers out early Saturday morning after the union turned down the company’s final offer.

The union accused the embattled plane-maker of choosing “corporate greed over safety,” while Boeing insisted that it had a plan to “ensure safe operations” at the impacted manufacturing sites across the Puget Sound area.

“We have now locked out members of the bargaining unit and fully implemented our contingency plan with highly qualified firefighters performing the work of (union) members,” Boeing said in a statement.

A lockout is essentially the opposite of a strike ― rather than workers walking off the job by choice, an employer forces them off the job with the aim of gaining leverage in negotiations. Like strikes, lockouts tend to happen when a collective bargaining agreement has expired and a new one hasn’t been reached.

The union said the lockout was “intended to punish, intimidate, and coerce its firefighters into accepting a contract that undervalues ​​their work.”

“When is Boeing going to make safety a priority? When is Boeing finally going to listen?” Casey Yeager, the union’s president, said in a statement.

Boeing 737 Max 9 airliners are pictured at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, on April 20, 2020. Boeing said it locked out its unionized firefighters early Saturday morning.Boeing 737 Max 9 airliners are pictured at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, on April 20, 2020. Boeing said it locked out its unionized firefighters early Saturday morning.

Boeing 737 Max 9 airliners are pictured at a Boeing factory in Renton, Washington, on April 20, 2020. Boeing said it locked out its unionized firefighters early Saturday morning. JASON REDMOND via Getty Images

According to the union, it members respond to fires at Boeing work sites and train other Boeing employees on fire safety practices. The union said that its members earn “up to 30% less” than firefighters at nearby municipal fire departments, and that it would take workers 19 years to reach the top pay rate under Boeing’s most recent proposal.

The company said it has made two competitive offers that are in line with similar corporate fire departments.

Boeing is facing a wave of political and regulatory scrutiny over its safety practices ever since a door panel blew out on an Alaska Airlines 737 Max jet in January. The Federal Aviation Administration recently said that an audit of the company revealed “multiple instances” in which Boeing and a key supplier, Spirit AeroSystems, had failed to meet quality-control mandates.

Boeing announced in March that CEO David Calhoun would be stepping down.

Yeager maintained that the firefighter lockout could end up siphoning resources from other fire departments in the area.

“Our members are committed to improving the safety culture of the Boeing Company,” he said. “But we refuse to let a multi-billion-dollar company resolve its years of mismanagement on the backs of firefighters.”