Amid contract negotiations, Alaska Airlines is considering outsourcing its baggage-handling operation from SeaTac airport, putting 500 jobs at risk. The airline also is closing...

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Amid contract negotiations, Alaska Airlines is considering outsourcing its baggage-handling operation from SeaTac airport, putting 500 jobs at risk.

The airline also is closing its flight-attendant base in Portland to cut costs, affecting 348 flight attendants who now will report to work in Seattle, Los Angeles or Anchorage.

Alaska Air Group posted operating losses of $88.9 million in 2002 and $11.1 million in 2003. In 2004, its earnings again have been gutted by low fares and high fuel prices; it will report the year’s earnings figures at month’s end.

Alaska spokesman Sam Sperry confirmed the company has asked vendors for bids on contracting out the SeaTac baggage handling. He said the company will share the bids with the union, adding that no decision has been made to go ahead with the outsourcing.

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On the Web site of the International Association of Machinists, which represents the baggage handlers in current contract negotiations, a union statement said Alaska has replaced its demand for more than $2 million in concessions from its members with a new strategy to save money by outsourcing the work.

An update to the statement posted Friday described Alaska’s threat as “a form of extortion.”

Under pressure to cut costs, late last year Alaska announced the layoff of 900 managers, mechanics and aircraft cleaners, nearly 200 of them in Seattle.

Key labor agreements are pending. The pilots are in binding-arbitration talks. The flight attendants are in mediation. Management has asked employees for $112 million in wage and benefit concessions, primarily from the pilots.

With closure of the Portland flight-attendant base, members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) union based there will be reassigned to the three remaining bases. Flight attendants will have to relocate or commute.

If they move, Alaska will pay relocation expenses. If they choose to stay in Portland, then to start work they must, on their own time, take a flight to one of the remaining bases.

“Flight attendants made lifestyle choices — to buy homes and to start families — on the presumption that they would be based in Portland,” said Veda Shook, president of the AFA’s master executive council for the airline, who lives in the Portland area. “Now that’s all been turned upside down.”

Alaska spokesman Sperry said the move would generate “overhead efficiencies.”

“We estimate it will save the company $2.5 million after five years,” Sperry said.

With Alaska in furious cost-cutting mode, all the unions are feeling intense pressure.

“There’s not the human factor that there used to be” at the airline, said Shook of the flight attendants. “They are putting it to all their labor groups in every way they can.”

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com