Ak Air dumps Seattle crews

Layoff of baggage handlers hasn't affected Juneau

Posted: Sunday, May 15, 2005

Alaska Airlines laid off its baggage handlers in Seattle on Friday and contracted for that service.

The affected union said it will seek a court order to reverse the decision, charging that the company acted in bad faith.

Alaska Airlines canceled four flights Friday morning, none to or from Alaska, but by midday a spokeswoman said other flights were pretty much on time.

The move meant the immediate loss of 472 baggage handling jobs at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport held by Alaska Airlines employees, company officials said.

The airline previously decided to cancel four early flights on Friday to Orange County, Calif., Spokane, Wash., and San Francisco. Passengers were placed on later flights.

"We wanted to be sure we had smooth operations during the day," spokeswoman Catherine Boren said. "Beyond those four flights, flights are by and large on time."

Passengers at Juneau International Airport haven't seen delays, said airport manager Allan Heese.

"There's going to be a mess," said Bobby De Pace, president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 143.

"There's no way you can replace 472 people with a new work force without having problems," he said.

The contract in Seattle with U.K.-based Menzies Aviation Group is projected to save the airline more than $13 million annually, Alaska Airlines officials said.

Alaska Airlines CEO Bill Ayer cited high fuel prices and pressure from low-cost carriers.

"Our success working with providers in other cities gives us confidence that we can continue moving Seattle customers' bags reliably while reducing our operating costs significantly," Ayer said.

De Pace said the company has broken federal labor laws by not bargaining in good faith.

"Our attorneys will be going to court soon," he said midday Friday. "They have to deal with us in good faith."

De Pace said the company didn't share with the union all of the financial information regarding outsourcing the work.

Alaska Airlines already contracts with outside companies to provide ramp services in 41 of the 56 cities it serves, company officials said.

Alaska Airlines' action follows the union's rejection May 5 of the company's final offer after 20 months of negotiations.

De Pace said the company's baggage handlers in Alaska could be affected by the Seattle layoffs because those people have the right to take the jobs of workers with less seniority.

But Boren, a company spokeswoman, said she didn't think it would significantly affect employees in Alaska. There are job openings for baggage handlers now in the state, she said.

Laid-off workers can accept a severance package or bid for jobs elsewhere in Alaska Airlines, she said. The severance package is more generous than the contract requires, company officials said.

The company and union still expect to resume negotiations for a contract for about 450 ramp service, air freight and supply agents in Alaska; nearly 140 air freight and supply agents in Seattle; and 13 supply agents in Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland and San Francisco.

Those sessions, with a mediator, could take place this summer.

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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