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President Biden highlights collective bargaining in concern about Boeing firefighters on strike

Boeing locked out firefighters and hired replacements after the union rejected a pay offer 20% below the average of neighboring departments

By Julie Johnsson
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden weighed in on a labor dispute underway at Boeing Co., urging the planemaker to restart stalled contract talks with a union representing 160 of its firefighters.

“Collective bargaining is a right that helps employers and employees,” Biden said in a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter. He said he was “concerned” about reports that Boeing had locked out members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local I-66.

Biden’s admonishment over a relatively small-scale labor spat signals the scrutiny and stakes ahead for Boeing as it holds separate, high-stake talks with the union representing roughly 32,000 Seattle-area factory workers. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, whose contract expires in September, is seeking a 40% pay hike and board representation.

The labor talks come as the company contends with a management shakeup, financial strain and regulatory scrutiny stemming from a January accident in which a fuselage panel blew off a 737 Max shortly after takeoff.

“We remain committed to securing an agreement,” Boeing said in an emailed statement. “Our offer provides significant pay increases and increased benefits.”

Boeing locked out its firefighters and hired replacements on May 4 after workers rejected pay offers that their union described as 20% below the average at other Puget Sound-area fire departments. The union has said it represents about 160 firefighters at several factories and flight-test facilities around the Seattle area and Moses Lake, Washington.

In its statement, Boeing said its firefighters’ compensation is competitive with other industrial fire departments, which provide the initial response to an incident before municipal first responders take command. Boeing’s firefighters earned $91,000 on average last year, and their pay would increase to $112,000 at the start of Boeing’s proposed four-year contract, according to the company.

“I encourage folks to return to the table to secure a deal that benefits Boeing and gets these firefighters the pay and benefits they deserve,” said Biden, who has dubbed himself the most pro-union president in history.

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