Boeing: Firefighters in Renton face lockout if no deal by May 4

A labor dispute has heated up. Boeing filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the firefighters union and threatened a lockout.

EVERETT — Boeing said late Tuesday (April 30) it will lock out its union firefighters at facilities across the state unless a contract is ratified by Saturday, May 4.

About 125 Boeing firefighters — members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-66 — are currently in contract negotiations with Boeing. Union members have rejected two previous contract offers. With no agreement, firefighters said this week they could have called a strike as soon as May 13.

“Since the union could give notice to strike at any time, we have been forced to spend considerable time and resources to ensure the continuity of operations,” Boeing said in a statement.

“With a potential for a strike, we have activated our contingency plan that includes the use of highly qualified firefighters,” the company continued. “If a contract is not ratified by 12:01 a.m. on May 4, we will lock out all members of the bargaining unit.”

Local I-66, which represents firefighters at Boeing facilities in Renton, Everett, Auburn, Seattle and Moses Lake, is seeking a deal that includes competitive pay and better staffing.

Boeing claims Local I-66 is not negotiating fairly.

“After two and half months of negotiations, including several sessions with an impartial federal mediator, the union continues to engage in bad faith bargaining,” the company said. “As a result we have filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board.”

Boeing shared its lockout plans with union members Tuesday afternoon, one day after dozens picketed outside the company’s facilities in Renton and Everett.

Still, the company said it wants to reach a deal with the union and will continue to bargain in good faith.

Dean Shelton, vice-president of the Washington State Council of Fire Fighters, said talks broke down after Monday.

“Boeing is insisting that this was their last and final offer,” Shelton said Wednesday. Shelton, in turn, accused the company of not bargaining in good faith.

As of Wednesday morning, no new talks have been scheduled between Boeing and the union before the midnight Saturday deadline, Local I-66 president Casey Yeager said in a statement.

“We presented Boeing with a reasonable, meet-in-the-middle proposal,” Yeager said. “Boeing refused to consider it. The company told us we’ll have to accept the offer we’ve already rejected twice, because we won’t get anything better. Now with this lockout threat, it’s trying to bully us into accepting a bad contract.”

“There hasn’t been a fire fighters strike anywhere in the United States since the ’80s,” Yeager added. “We’re fire fighters. It’s not what we do, but with this lockout, Boeing’s going on strike against us.”

Local I-66 called the threatened lockout a tactic to put financial pressure on employees who are considering a strike.

Industrial fire departments, like the ones Boeing maintains, are common among the mining, chemical, oil and gas and aviation sectors.

Boeing’s specialized firefighters are on hand every time a Boeing-built aircraft is fueled or takes off on a test or delivery flight. They 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.

“Locking out your professional firefighters is of great concern for all of us and for the people who reside in those plants,” Shelton said. “Those plants are like small cities.”

Shelton said Local I-66 is willing to continue negotiations, but rejects the company’s current pay package and proposal that requires firefighters serve the company for 19 years before reaching the top pay grade.

By comparison, firefighters at municipal fire departments typically reach the top end after three to five years, union officials said. The union is proposing six years.

At the bargaining table, the two sides disagree on what standards should apply when it comes to pay and staffing levels.

“The union has repeatedly attempted to apply municipal fire department standards to Boeing’s industrial fire department despite the work being completely different,” the company said.

Boeing said its “competitive, market-based” contract offer includes pay raises and guaranteed annual wage increases that are on par or greater than industrial fire department levels. Its compensation package would boost pay an average of $21,000 per year, the company said.

Last year, the average take-home pay for a firefighter was $91,000, Boeing said.

“Our contract offer would significantly increase that figure,” the company said.

Still, firefighters said their pay is, on average, 20% less compared to regional fire departments and fire districts.

“We’re seeking pay parity,” said Shelton, of the firefighters council.

Boeing said the comparison doesn’t apply: “The union is using standards that do not apply to this bargaining unit.”

Supporters of the Local I-66 union showed up in front of the Boeing facilities in Renton and Everett on Monday, April 29. On May 1, Boeing said that there will be a lockout on May 4 if a deal could not be made by the weekend. Courtesy image.

Supporters of the Local I-66 union showed up in front of the Boeing facilities in Renton and Everett on Monday, April 29. On May 1, Boeing said that there will be a lockout on May 4 if a deal could not be made by the weekend. Courtesy image.