Alaska Airlines baggage handlers arriving for work at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just before 3 a.m. this morning were met with a Friday the 13th surprise. Overnight, their jobs had been given to an outsourcing company.

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Alaska Airlines baggage handlers arriving for work at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport just before 3 a.m. this morning were met with a Friday the 13th surprise. Overnight, their jobs had been given to an outsourcing company.

All 472 of Alaska’s baggage handlers at Sea-Tac got the same message by phone or as they showed up for their shifts. By replacing the unionized baggage handlers in Seattle with contract workers from Menzies Aviation, the airline estimates it will save more than $13 million a year.

The decision came a week after union workers in Seattle and Alaska overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer from management. The airline had said since January that it might outsource the jobs if no agreement could be reached with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM).

The carrier is working to cut costs in an industry facing high fuel costs, low ticket prices and increasing competition from other carriers that are slashing costs. Late last year it announced the layoff of 900 managers, mechanics and aircraft cleaners, including almost 200 people in Seattle.

Union leaders said today they will take legal action to try to save the Seattle baggage handling jobs. The union believes that by outsourcing now, airline management has violated both 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.

Alaska is required by law to pay full wages and benefits to workers for nine weeks, after which a severance package kicks in.

One Seattle baggage handler with nearly nine years at Alaska said he would rather be unemployed than working under the contract proposed by management.

“Given the pay and the level of respect we’ve been given by this company, to me personally, I’d rather go work somewhere else,” said the 26-year-old worker, who asked not to be named in order to protect his remaining pay and severance.

The IAM represents 1,072 Alaska Airlines workers, most of them baggage handlers in Seattle and at 14 airports in Alaska. It also represents workers who provide supplies and spare parts at airports in various cities, including some outside the Northwest.

The carrier already outsources baggage handling services at 41 of the 56 airports it serves.

Melissa Allison: 206-464-3312 or mallison@seattletimes.com