EVERETT — Several hundred anti-vaccination protesters, most of them Boeing blue-collar workers, voiced loud and angry opposition to the company’s newly announced vaccine mandate Friday outside the Machinists union hall in Everett.
Lining Airport Way on both sides and undeterred by pouring rain, the crowd waved signs and U.S. flags while chanting anti-vax and anti-government slogans.
The loud scene was made deafening at times as most cars and trucks driving by showed their support with gestures and honking of horns. Several supersized pickups deliberately spun tires and slid sideways across the roadway, burning rubber and slowing the traffic behind them but delighting the protest crowd.
One big pickup flew a U.S. flag and two “Thin Blue Line” flags from the truck bed. A sprinkling of MAGA hats and Donald Trump signs lent a distinctly political edge to the protest as chants broke out directing an obscenity at President Joe Biden.
Workers interviewed at the protest said they are determined to resist Boeing’s mandate, even ready to lose their jobs.
Their fierce opposition was sparked by Boeing’s decision this week, following an executive order from Biden for all federal contractors, to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all its employees, with limited exemptions. It wasn’t possible to know how representative of the workforce the protesters are, but by their own account, they represent a significant fraction.
The intractable views expressed by the protesters suggest the company will certainly face sustained opposition to its policy and a game of chicken approaching the Dec. 8 deadline for terminating those workers who refuse to comply.
Several of those interviewed, some of whom gave only their first names, said they are ready to walk away from Boeing.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been approved by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration, and are considered by all leading medical authorities to be safe and remarkably effective. Yet some protesters flatly refuse to accept that the vaccines have been properly tested and vetted.
However, the most common motivating factor seemed to be political opposition to the mandate, portraying it as a breach of individual freedom.
The potent mixture of medical, political and even religious objections to the vaccine mandate swirling in the crowd were all apparent in the views of Mike Smith, 38, a 747 structures mechanic with 11 years at Boeing.
“I’m against vaccinations personally, that’s just my religious belief, being a Christian,” Smith said.
“If I want the vaccination it’s my choice. It shouldn’t have to be forced,” he said. “What the government’s doing, is making the corporations go out and do their dirty work. You’re mandated to lose your job, and that’s not right.”
“I’m out here supporting freedom,” Smith added. “It’s my body, my choice.”
Although he has two kids and his wife is off work, Smith said he’s ready to leave the job if the mandate is forced upon him.
“I had a job before I worked here and a job before that job,” he said. “I’ll find a job that doesn’t force it on us.”
Andy Arroyos, a quality inspector with 32 years at Boeing, said he won’t get vaccinated “because it’s gonna kill me.” And he too said he is ready to walk away from Boeing to avoid the vaccine.
“It hasn’t proven that it’s safe to begin with,” Arroyos said. “I think all this COVID stuff is not true as well. It’s fake.”
Anthony, a 747 mechanic with 10 years at Boeing, said he is vaccinated but his wife, who is breastfeeding their second child, has chosen not to take the shots.
“We don’t feel safe for our child injecting that through mom’s milk,” he said.
“Everybody has a right to choose what they put in their body. It’s not Jay Inslee, it’s not Joe Biden, it’s not [Boeing Commercial Airplanes boss] Stan Deal,” Anthony said. “It’s not their place, to tell us what we can put in our body.”
And he said he feels there’s a strong similar sentiment in a majority of the workforce.
“It’s pretty much unanimous in my building that nobody supports this mandate,” he said.
John Martinez, a 767 mechanic with nine years at Boeing, said his objections are more political than medical.
“It’s everybody’s choice to be able to get what they want when they want,” he said. “It shouldn’t be forced on anybody to get it.”
If Boeing forces the issue, Martinez said “I’ll sell my house and move out of state, probably Texas, Alabama, or Florida.”
Brad, a 767 mechanic with 10 years at Boeing, wore a “Don’t Tread On Me,” Gadsden flag T-shirt under his coat.
“The company is overstepping and trying to force us into something they have no right to do. They are trying to put me out of a job right now,” he said.
Brad blames Biden for forcing Boeing’s hand.
“Boeing is complicit with it, but yes, it’s the federal government,” he said.
Asked for comment on the protest, Boeing issued a statement: “Boeing is committed to maintaining a safe working environment for our employees, and advancing the health and safety of our global workforce.”
A spokesperson said worker attendance at the Everett site was normal for a Friday at this time of year.
The strong polarization of views on the vaccine mandate has put the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers union in a difficult position, since it has to support members with directly opposing views.
The union, representing more than 24,000 blue-collar workers, issued a statement Friday saying that “the vaccine is good for public health and safety” but that, even so, the union is “absolutely opposed to this mandate.”
“A vaccine mandate puts members in the untenable position to choose between their beliefs or losing their jobs,” the statement said. “We don’t believe that is right.”
The union said it is hearing talk of “potential walkouts or wildcat strikes,” and stipulated that it cannot encourage any such activities since it has a no-strike clause in its contract.
“However, our members have the right to engage in concerted activity,” the union statement said. “We might see rallies on both sides of the issue.”
As the December deadline for the vaccine mandate approaches Boeing seems certain to face more vehement protests and must now also contend with the possibility that it will lose some workers.