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Boeing is threatening to lock out its private firefighters in a dispute over pay

Boeing is threatening to lock out its private firefighters protecting its Seattle-area aircraft factories and call in replacements starting Friday evening unless workers accept the company’s latest wage offer.

The company said the two sides were far apart in the negotiations. The lockout is a precautionary measure because the union could go on strike at any time once the current contract expires at midnight local time.

Each side accuses the other of unfaithful negotiations.

The labor dispute comes as Boeing grapples with mounting losses – more than $24 billion since the start of 2019 – and increased scrutiny over the quality and safety of its manufacturing since a door plug was removed from a Boeing 737 Max in January Alaska Airlines flew out, which flew over Oregon.

On Friday, Boeing dismissed any safety concerns related to the dispute with its industrial firefighters. The company said it has reached agreements with “highly trained firefighters” to replace the union workers and that the lockout will not affect operations at factories where planes are built.

Boeing has about 125 firefighters in the Seattle area and a facility about 170 miles (275 kilometers) away in central Washington state. They serve as first responders to fires and medical emergencies and can call local fire departments for assistance. The union says Boeing’s continued presence allows it to receive significantly lower insurance premiums.

Firefighters were paid an average of $91,000 last year, according to the company.

Casey Yeager, president of Local I-66 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said Boeing is proposing increases of 18 to 20 percent, which would still reduce crews by 20 to 30 percent in the cities where Boeing plants are located earn as firefighters. He said the union is seeking pay increases of 40% to 50%.

A key sticking point is Boeing’s demand that firefighters wait 19 years instead of 14 years to reach the highest pay scale. The union is proposing five years.

“If they keep pushing it, you’ll never get there,” said Kjel Swedelius, a Boeing firefighter for more than six years. “Our turnover rate is super, super high.”

Swedelius said he needs financial assistance to pay for the care of his autistic 7-year-old son.

“I really enjoy working at Boeing, but it’s getting harder and harder,” he said. “They don’t want to keep up with inflation.”

In a letter to the union this week, Boeing said the union had rejected two previous proposals and that the company had “gone as far as it was willing to go financially and will not add any more money to its offer.”

The company, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, said it is proposing to pay firefighters four hours of overtime in every 24-hour shift, which would increase their pay by an average of $21,000 a year.

Boeing has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, accusing the union of negotiating in bad faith during more than two months of negotiations and multiple meetings with a federal arbitrator.

“Given the threat of a strike, we have activated our emergency plan, which calls for the deployment of highly trained firefighters,” a company spokesman said in a statement on Friday. “If a treaty is not ratified by 12:01 a.m. (Saturday), we will lock out all members of the bargaining unit.”

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