The fight goes on at Sea-Tac

By Steve Leigh

SOME 8,000 workers in and around Seattle Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) are continuing their organizing drive. Several unions are cooperating in this drive. At a rally on May 15, unions represented included Service Employees International Union, United Food and Commercial Workers and the UNITE-HERE hotel and restaurant workers union. Also involved was Puget Sound Sage, a community group that supports workers, and One America, an immigrant rights group.

Some 150 airport workers and their supporters rallied in front of the Museum of Flight, where Alaska Airlines was holding its annual shareholders' meeting. Alaska Airlines, the largest company at Sea-Tac, has sent work that used to be union to subcontractors who don't provide living wages or benefits. Workers who want to unionize include baggage handlers, fuelers, carpet cleaners and others.

After picketing for a half hour, the rally heard from airport workers in Seattle and Los Angeles and from shareholder supporters who represented the workers' viewpoint inside the meeting.

Los Angeles International Airport also a big center for Alaska Airlines, and workers at LAX face similar problems as workers at Sea Tac. Several came to Seattle to support the workers here and make their own demands of Alaska. One worker from LAX said, "I've been injured six times in the last year. I have worked decades at LAX and have nothing to show for it."

A worker from Seattle added, "We don't have vacation. We don't have family leave. We don't have medical. They don't respect us."

Inside the meeting, most of the shareholders and management were surprised and taken aback by the passion of the shareholders who supported the workers and explained the conditions workers face. The supporters reported that when they told the meeting that the shareholders were responsible, management didn't know what to do.

After more and more people lined up to denounce Alaska's failure to require decent wages and conditions from subcontractors, the new CEO agreed to sign a pledge that the supporters of workers had brought into the meeting. He agreed to meet with representatives of the workers within 60 days to discuss the conditions they face. The CEO claimed sympathy, saying, "We want to focus on people."

Most people at the rally considered the day a success. They were especially excited by the CEO's decision to sign the pledge and meet with the workers. Of course, this is only one step along the way to restoring workers' union rights, living wages and benefits. It will take a continuous campaign and much more organizing to compel action from Alaska and its subcontractors.

Workers are definitely are planning to continue the struggle. The May rally followed a demonstration and march of hundreds near Sea-Tac on April 28. The next rally will be on May 24 at the Amazon shareholders meeting at 8:30 a.m. at the Seattle Art Museum. Amazon was chosen for several reasons. It is doing its best to avoid taxes on its multibillion-dollar profits, and it runs warehouses with sweatshop conditions.

This campaign is one of the most active in the Seattle area and deserves solidarity from all workers and supporters of labor.