IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

IAM District 751 machinists join the picket line to support Boeing firefighters during their lockout from the company on Thursday, May 16, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Amid lockout, Boeing, union firefighters return to bargaining table

The firefighters and the planemaker held limited negotiations this week: They plan to meet again Monday, but a lockout continues.

EVERETT — Boeing and its union firefighters resumed bargaining this week, after the company locked them out of its Everett, Seattle area and Moses Lake facilities two weeks ago.

About 125 Boeing firefighters, who are members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-66, are seeking a contract that includes competitive pay and better staffing.

Talks took place on Monday and Wednesday, and they were scheduled to resume next Monday, Boeing said in a statement to managers it shared with The Daily Herald.

“We once again returned to the bargaining table on May 15 with the assistance of a federal mediator in the hopes of ending the lockout. We remain committed to reaching a deal,” Wednesday’s statement said.

But so far, negotiations seem tense, with both sides accusing the other of bargaining in bad faith. And the lockout continues.

Boeing said it met a union proposal Wednesday with a counteroffer, but “continuing their pattern of bad faith bargaining, they (the union) refused to put our offer to a membership vote or even provide a counteroffer.”

“While our team is ready to meet at any time, for reasons unknown to us, the union informed us they are not available to meet again until May 20,” the statement continued.

“The ball is in their court,” a Boeing spokesperson said.

In an email Thursday, Local I-66 President Casey Yeager said: “There have been some talks and we’re going to continue our talks on Monday.”

“Put your front line safety workers back on the job, and give them a fair contract. Let’s get back to improving The Boeing Company and stop with the games,” Local I-66 posted this week on its social media page.

The union’s contract expired March 1, but firefighters stayed on the job while negotiations were underway. Firefighters have rejected two previous contract offers.

Union leaders said they were negotiating a third potential contract when the company hired replacement firefighters and locked them out May 4.

Since then, firefighters and their supporters have held round-the-clock information pickets near Boeing facilities, including the company’s wide body assembly plant at Paine Field. About 40 firefighters work at the Everett plant.

On Thursday morning, half a dozen firefighters, joined by members of other Boeing unions, gathered outside a small blue tent on the northwest corner of Airport Way and Kasch Park Road and waved signs that said: “End the Boeing Lock-Out. Fighting For Your Safety.”

Firefighter Ollie Ponte, who has been a Boeing firefighter for nearly five years, said union members were told Thursday morning that Local I-66 and Boeing were at the bargaining table this week, and that they’ll meet again Monday.

“The money has stopped. We got our last checks this week. In the coming weeks, we’ll just be getting unemployment,” said Ponte, standing in front of a 6-foot long banner that read, “Tell Boeing To Stop Putting Profits Before Safety.”

Ponte and other firefighters have been staffing the union rallying point for six to eight hours a day.

“We’re hopeful that we can work with the company so that we can get back to work,” he said.

At a time when Boeing could face criminal prosecution for allegedly violating a 2021 federal settlement over two deadly crashes in 2019 and 2020 involving the 737 MAX, union leaders said locking out firefighters is yet another safety issue that endangers the company’s facilities and workers.

The lockout has drawn national attention. Last week, President Biden weighed in on the labor dispute in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, and called on both sides to return to the bargaining table.

On Monday, union leaders and lawmakers rallied outside Boeing headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. IAFF President Edward Kelly, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle, an Oregon Democrat, urged Boeing to make a deal, according to a Reuters report.

The sticking points include pay, which union officials say is about 20% lower than local fire departments, and a provision that requires firefighters work 19 years before reaching the company’s highest pay grade. That’s up from 14 years in the current contract. Union officials want to reduce it to six years, which is closer to the three- to five-year span at regional fire departments.

Private industrial fire departments, like the one Boeing maintains, are common among the mining, chemical, oil and gas and aviation industries.

Boeing firefighters are present whenever a Boeing-built aircraft is fueled or takes off on a test or delivery flight. Firefighters also provide emergency medical services and conduct regular safety inspections at Boeing facilities. In an emergency, they cover the initial response and then coordinate with municipal firefighters. Municipal firefighters then assume command of the incident and have jurisdiction, the company said.

Boeing said its “highly competitive and market based” compensation package is in line with the pay at industrial fire departments. The company also said the union’s proposal, putting firefighters at the top of the pay scale within six years, is inconsistent with industrial and corporate fire departments.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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