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Sat, May 14, 2005

Alaska Airlines Kills 472 Jobs

Ramp Service Workers Locked Out.

Alaska Airlines ramp workers arrived at Seattle Tacoma International airport at 0300 PDT Friday to find that their jobs had been given to contractors. Angry baggage handlers who rejected a contract last week vow to continue the fight for their jobs, while the airline pilots union filed suit to protest salary cuts handed to them by an arbitrator.

"A decision of this kind, impacting people who have served this company well, is extremely difficult," said Alaska's CEO Bill Ayer in a release. "But the ongoing turmoil in the airline industry, coupled with high fuel prices and pressure from low-cost carriers, puts us in a position where we must continue to find ways to reduce the cost of running our airline."

London based Menzies Aviation workers began loading baggage right away, with most flights departing within minutes of their scheduled time. The airline now contracts ramp service in 41 of the 56 cities that it serves.

Working with Menzies in Seattle is hoped to save the airline more than $13 million annually. Menzies provides ground handling services for Alaska Airlines in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose and at Mexican airports.

The airline stated that the decision is the result of a lengthy evaluation process and came after extensive negotiations with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) to discuss contract changes.

"Unfortunately, we were unable to achieve a contract approaching the savings available from service providers," said Ed White, Alaska's vice president of ground operations.

"To ease the transition for affected employees, we are working with the IAM to offer a more lucrative severance package than that specified in the current contract," White said.

This package includes two weeks of base pay for each year of service; a cash bonus of $3,000 to $15,000 based on length of service; one year of company-paid health care coverage; travel benefits for the employee and eligible dependents; and a nine-week extension of current wages and benefits, as required by law. The airline also will provide information on outplacement assistance, career counseling, retraining resources and opportunities with other local employers.

Seattle employees can apply for jobs with Menzies and still receive their severance. The airline is still negotiating with more than 450 ramp service, air freight and supply agents in the state of Alaska, 140 air freight and supply agents in Seattle; and 13 supply agents in California

Union leaders equated the action to a call for war. IAM District 143 claims that the action is an illegal lock-out and they'll pursue legal action to preserve members jobs. Previously, the airline management had indicated the decision would not be made until the end of the month.

Union leaders told the Seattle Times that by airline management has violated the IAM's collective-bargaining agreement with the carrier, and the Railway Labor Act.

"If Alaska is looking for a fight that may prove fatal to the airline, they have found one," Robert Roach Jr., general vice president of transportation for the IAM, said in a statement.

In March, the airline filed a lawsuit to force the IAM into arbitration to determine whether its contract allows the jobs to be outsourced. Management went ahead with outsourcing before resolution of the lawsuit.

The Air Line Pilots Association, the union for Alaska Airlines' pilots, sued the airline yesterday in U.S. District Court in Seattle, hoping to overturn an arbitrator's decision that cut pilot pay by an average of 26 percent. The union charges that Richard Kasher, the arbitrator, and the arbitration board failed to follow rules that the airline and the union had agreed upon.

ALPA wants the April 30th decision overturned. The decision gave some pilots a pay cut of 34 percent. Alaska expects to save $80 million to $90 million annually if the decision is upheld.

FMI: www.alaskaairlines.org, www.iam143.org, www.alpa.org

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