By Eric M. Johnson
EVERETT, Wash. (Reuters) - Waving signs like "coercion is not consent," and "stop the mandate," some 200 Boeing Co employees and others staged a protest on Friday over the planemaker's COVID-19 vaccine requirement for U.S. workers.
Boeing said on Tuesday it will require its 125,000 U.S. employees to be vaccinated by Dec. 8 under an executive order issued by President Joe Biden for federal contractors.
Biden and his team have struggled to vanquish the coronavirus pandemic because a large swath of the U.S. population continues to resist taking safe and widely available vaccines.
"It's my choice and it's my body," one avionics engineer said, his voice nearly drowned out by anti-Biden chants and trucks honking to show support along the busy street outside Boeing's factory in Everett, north of Seattle.
"It's an experimental drug given under a pseudo-emergency," he added.
Another worker, an assembly mechanic, said: "This is America. We don't just do what we're told because one person says to."
A Boeing spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, Boeing said employees must either show proof of vaccination or have an approved reasonable accommodation based on a disability or sincerely held religious belief by Dec. 8.
Major U.S. airlines including American Airlines have said they will also meet the deadline imposed on federal contractors, as has aircraft parts manufacturer Spirit AeroSystems.
"Now that he has issued the Executive Order, it is our responsibility to comply with that order," Spirit Chief Executive Officer Tom Gentile wrote in a memo to employees and seen by Reuters on Friday.
Spirit was calling back former employees as it prepares for what Gentile characterized as "one of the fastest increases in production rates in the history of our industry."
Several Boeing employees at the protest said they were applying for exemptions. One engineer said he might seek early retirement, rather than complying with the mandate. Another employee, a 20-year Boeing technical designer, said he would find a new job rather than take a COVID vaccine, and made untrue claims about the vaccine.
"The vaccine isn't safe, it isn't proven, and it's not effective," he said.
Boeing has said its mandate does not apply immediately to its sites in Texas, where Republican Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order on Monday barring COVID-19 vaccine mandates by any entity, including private employers.
One Boeing mechanic - wearing a shirt with the words "practicing socialist distancing" - said the mandate reflected "tyrannical big-government and tyrannical big business."
"I'm against the mandate, and the vaccine is a personal choice," he said.
(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Everett, Washington; Editing by Chris Reese)