Boeing, firefighters settle contract, ending lockout

By the Leeham News Team


May 31, 2024, © Leeham News: Boeing firefighters on Thursday approved a new contract, ending a lockout by Boeing since May 1.

Firefighters approved the new contract by a vote of 78% to 22% (86 to 24). Firefighters return to work tomorrow.

Contract Summary

The offer was good enough to end the lockout, but it’s not clear whether it will solve the chronic turnover in Boeing’s Fire Department. Despite Boeing’s attempts to paint the offer as competitive with other industrial fire departments around the United States, pay remains below the municipal departments right next door to its facilities in Everett, Renton and Seattle.

It still will take Boeing firefighters 10 years to get to maximum pay, which is an improvement over the current 14. (Most Seattle-area departments move firefighters to maximum pay in three to five years.)

Staffing levels

The agreement appears to address the union’s complaints about unsafe staffing levels at Boeing stations. It also provides pay boosts and opportunities for promotions — particularly for those Firefighters who have specific certifications — that will help close the gap with the fire departments next door.

But the larger take-away is not good. Boeing’s willingness to gamble on the safety of its people, physical plant and in-production airplanes in order to save $3m to $4m in labor costs doesn’t seem to suggest that Boeing is changing the way it does business, safety crisis or not. This is the first labor dispute involving union Firefighters anywhere in the United States in more than four decades.

Boeing’s hardball

Boeing’s hard-ball plays with the Firefighters have not gone unnoticed by its other unions. The IAM 751 machinists, which is in its own contract negotiations with Boeing, have been highly visible on the Firefighters’ picket lines.

Machinists have basically used the lockout as a chance to train its front-line leaders in the logistics of organizing and supporting a strike line. The IAM contract expires in September, and the union wants a 40% pay hike over four years and recovery of some previous health and benefit and pension give backs. IAM leadership in 2020 alerted members to begin saving for a potential strike this year.

SPEEA, Boeing’s other principal union, represents engineers and technicians. Its contract expires in 2026r.

Results of these union contract talks continue to suggest that Boeing’s MBAs continue to view the company’s workforce as a cost to be contained, rather than an asset to be maximized. That attitude — treating suppliers and the company’s own skilled labor as commodities — is what got Boeing into the current mess.

Needing friends in high places

At a time when Boeing needs all the friends it can get in high places, it needlessly antagonized Democratic politicians. President Biden weighed in on the lockout, saying he was “concerned” by Boeing’s decision to lock out the union and urging the two sides to resume talks. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, called on Boeing to end the lockout and let firefighters go back to work while talks continued. And the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, Rep. Rick Larsen, spent time on the Fire Fighters picket line. In one month, Boeing managed to get sideways with a whole lot of key political figures who will be overseeing hearings into the company in the months ahead.

If Biden’s willing to post statements about a Boeing labor dispute involving 125 workers, it’s a fair bet that he’ll be on a Renton or Everett picket line this fall, should Boeing fail to settle a contract with its 32,000 Machinists, bringing another round of unwelcome headlines criticizing the company’s management.

Boeing’s made a decades-long effort to minimize and contain its existing unions. But by picking a fight with one of its smallest organized bargaining groups, and then settling for a tactical draw at the bargaining table, Boeing has energized the whole Washington labor movement, which effectively rallied to support the 125 members of Fire Fighters Local I-66.

Related Story

Culture change needed at Boeing; labor talks could be a start


9 Comments on “Boeing, firefighters settle contract, ending lockout

  1. It appears they’re shooting themselves in the foot (again).
    This should energize the Machinists’ Union nicely..

  2. Having worked in a large facility with no fire fighters, I don’t see that an issue. Workers informed of their systems, evac drill and well maintained fire system protections are you prime personal safety.

    Fire Dept action is re-active. It can have pro active aspects with enforcement of the standards of the workplace to put another layer of safety in the Swiss Cheese model (I love that visual, it says it all).

    What we are not seeing here is the experience difference between the two systems let alone Boeing and the Muni system around Boeing.

    I see a bit of a hint with bonus for specialization skills.

    Don’t get me wrong, I have started at the bottom of all too many jobs and I only got paid more as my capability increased.

    That could mean I had maxed out (pun) at one entity and needed to move to another to get on a higher paying track.

    A Muni Fire department is going to have many fires a month and the crews always in a degree of danger if not downright severe danger.

    Boeing if it has fires are small, either reactive is enough or an employee grabs a fire extinguisher (often against policy) and snuffed it.

    I know of one guy who had a tug catch fire on him (massive short in the electrical system). He grabbed said extinguisher and put it out.

    I had to rib him, you know you violated policy ? He just laughed.

    In latter years we spend time on how NOT to get fires loose. That by far works the best (if the people follow the plan – which was selective)

    There would be a reason those people are at Boeing, they know the pay going in and what the system is.

    Would paying them more make them better at their job? If not its a waste of pay.

    Now don’t get me wrong, Calhoun is beyond a waste of pay. But you also need to determine what a position is worth, what has gone into it and how skilled they are. I don’t see a Corporate Fire department as high on the skill area. That is a different career track. It may be a starter position or it may be all you got, but just paying more for no gain to the company? That is basic business 090.

  3. Boeing firefighters are paid less because they have ZERO chance of running into a burning building, or putting their life on the line. “Firefighter Lite”

    • Boeing employees in offices are overpaid and not worth to be rescued by Boeing paid firefighters?

      In Germany a factory fire department is in most cases mandatory by regulators. No proper fire department, no permission to work. How did Boeing maintained the security during the strike?

      • I never worked in a true manufacturing facility.

        I don’t think there are regs but I could be wrong.

        The facilitates I did work in had alarm systems of course as well as sprinkler systems. We had drills for evac, so called rally points (where are the mechanics like me supposed to go as we could be anywhere?)

        At the Airport it was interesting as the Airport Fire dept did not have responsibility for the various facilities other than the pax terminals.

        Nearest city Fire Dept was a ways away.

        We had a mechanic with a severe allergy reaction to dust (he did not tell us, he went to change filters and of course they are dust ladden). Ungh.

        Stuffed benadryl down his throat as he croaked out that worked. I had it for my own allergies. We had him on the shop table ready to do CPR.

        Had to get EMT through a secure gate, coordinate with our security. No one had given any thought to that or a medical issue on the ramp.

        • About BA and fire safety and the current SpaceX capsule
          ” No one was aboard Boeing’s two previous Starliner test flights. The first, in 2019, was hit with software trouble so severe that its empty capsule couldn’t reach the station until the second try in 2022. Then last summer, weak parachutes and flammable tape cropped up that needed to be fixed or removed. Wednesday’s launch was the third try with astronauts; two earlier countdowns were scuttled by rocket-related issues. ”

          OK- OVER 50 years ago ( 1967 ) The apollo 1 capsule fire was a major disaster and killed three asstronauts. There were several issues that contributed once a spark melted wiring insulation. A lot of ” velco ‘ was used to fasten things, and in an O2 rich environment the Velco rapiidly flamed. AS a result a significant scrub of the systems and parts used was made and use of the velcro ‘ tape’ was verboten as were other ‘ plastic ‘ materials.

          So 50 plus years later BA discovers AFTER the fact that ‘ tape ‘ of a certain type is a no no ??

          “But but it was 20 percent cheaper then certified brand X ” probably slipped thru the bean counter scrub. After all duct tape works as well, and if we buy in quantity we can save another 2 percent.

          Yep all parts made by lowest bidder or meets BA requirements.

          I’ll bet the helium leaks are another typical ‘ quality’ escape. Cheaper orings can do that.

          • Missspelled Velcro- and yes some- but not all velcro is fire-retardant but at a slightly higher cost :))

  4. No coverage here of CEO Calhoun’s appearance before the Senate?
    Yahoo News has a decent article up.

    Also, according to the WSJ, Boeing is having some difficulty finding someone who’ll take their CEO job.

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