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SeaTac 'Turbulence' Over Airport Workers' Wages & Benefits

Photo: Airport construction worker.
Photo: Airport construction worker.
May 15, 2012

SEATAC, Wash. - There's some turbulence at the biggest airport in the state, as workers behind the scenes at Sea-Tac International speak up about their concerns about pay and benefits as contractors. Today, some will take those concerns to the shareholders' meeting of Alaska Air Group, a company that is reporting record profits.

The workers say that, since their jobs were contracted out to service companies a few years ago, those who clean and fuel planes, handle baggage and assist disabled passengers have seen their wages decrease by several dollars an hour.

Alex Popescu, who fuels planes, says they're tired of sliding back.

"That's what we want, is to be working class - y'know, not poverty level class - just to get treated with some kind of respect and dignity. And for management and the Port and everybody else to realize that it's because of us that you guys are so successful."

Popescu says some of the contract companies offer health insurance but, at rates that eat up about a quarter of a worker's pre-tax income, few are able to afford it.

There are about 2,800 airline-contract workers at Sea-Tac. A new survey of more than 300 of them shows most make about $10 an hour. They are disproportionately immigrants and people of color. To David Mendoza, policy analyst with Puget Sound Sage and co-author of a report on the airport labor situation, the most surprising finding has been that Sea-Tac contract workers are paid much less than those at other airports.

"Alaska has operations up and down the West Coast where it's paying workers up to $14.97 an hour. That's because those port authorities have mandated that these companies step up and treat their workers better. And our Port of Seattle has, so far, failed to do so."

Workers and advocacy groups are asking the Port of Seattle to establish living-wage standards for all airport jobs. The report says the use of airline contractors has created what it calls a "subclass of poverty-wage workers" who rely on state and federal public assistance to make ends meet. It also says the Port of Seattle has stated that, for legal reasons, it cannot intervene in business relationships between airlines and their contractors.

See the full report at

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA