Boeing training pilots in the Seattle area, who will play a key role in preparing airline crews when the 737 MAX returns to service, are expected to cut ties with the white-collar union representing them.

After Boeing gave a 25% pay raise exclusively to its nonunion pilots late last year, a majority of the unionized training pilots — a group of 29 pilots represented by the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) — filed a petition Friday with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to decertify, or kick out, the union.

A person with knowledge of the matter said Boeing’s pilot-training leadership “sees this as a big win, the end of union pilots at Boeing.”

When the MAX returns to service, some airlines will require their pilots to go through full-flight-simulator training to become familiar with the updated systems before they fly passengers on the jet. Boeing is preparing for the possibility that such training may even be widely mandated by regulators, either by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) here in the United States or by various foreign authorities.

Many airlines, especially overseas and smaller carriers, will need Boeing’s help to put their pilots through such a training regimen. In addition, the FAA has said it wants each individual MAX aircraft flight tested before it carries passengers. So Boeing will need a large number of both instructor pilots and pilots able to conduct flight tests and fly customer demo flights.

Work continues on Boeing 737 airplanes inside the Renton Factory on July 24, 2019. 
Boeing says the 737 MAX crisis could temporarily shut down Renton production. Such a drastic step would mean temporary layoffs at the plant, which currently employs more than 10,000 people.

Photographed on July 24, 2019. 210980
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For that, Boeing plans to hire temporary contract pilots from Isle of Man-based aircrew and training firm CCL Aviation, with which it has contracted since 2013. SPEEA’s criticism of such “pilot outsourcing” sparked acrimony with management.

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Union sees a ‘bribe’

SPEEA executive director Ray Goforth said Boeing management’s attempt to “bust the bargaining unit … has poisoned the relationship (with SPEEA) for the foreseeable future.”

He described Boeing’s pay raise for nonunion pilots as a ploy to “bribe the pilots into decertifying the union.”

Boeing “told our pilots they have to decertify the unit to get the same pay increase,” he added.

Boeing spokesman Paul Bergman denied any such interference by management with its employees’ right to be in a union. Such a maneuver could be an illegal unfair-labor practice under federal law.

He said the petition to leave the union was filed by “a group of individual employees and was not initiated, requested or encouraged by Boeing management.”

A person familiar with the details said 70% of the SPEEA pilot-bargaining unit signed the petition requesting a vote, well above the necessary 30% threshold, strongly suggesting that the outcome will go against the union.

NLRB regional director Ron Hooks said Monday that once the agency confirms the petition attained the threshold, a vote of the pilots on whether to decertify the union is likely to be scheduled “within weeks.”