The union representing baggage handlers at Alaska Airlines put off scheduled negotiations with the company this week, as tensions grew over...

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The union representing baggage handlers at Alaska Airlines put off scheduled negotiations with the company this week, as tensions grew over the possible layoff of about 500 baggage handlers in Seattle.

The baggage handlers are working under the threat of layoffs at any moment. The airline has said it has an agreement with an outside company to do their work at an annual savings of about $13 million.

Alaska and the union are discussing cost cuts as an alternative to outsourcing.

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) said it plans to respond to the company’s most recent proposal by next Thursday. It said one reason for the delay was that Alaska has not given the union all the information it needs.

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An Alaska spokeswoman said the company is “highly disappointed that the IAM called off the talks.”

“We aren’t aware of any outstanding data requests,” she said.

The company had told the baggage handlers their jobs were safe through March 28.

Further riling the union is a lawsuit Alaska filed Monday, seeking to force the IAM into arbitration to determine whether its contract allows the airline to outsource those jobs.

The IAM has accused Dennis Hamel, Alaska’s vice president of employee services, of trying to negotiate directly with members through employee memos.

The union warns in a message being distributed today that such communication will delay the process further.

Union officials are particularly incensed about a message Hamel sent last week detailing parts of Alaska’s proposal for a new contract.

They also took issue with a message Tuesday from Hamel telling employees about the lawsuit, which he wrote is necessary to ensure “the future reliability of the contractual rights established in this and other labor agreements.”

The IAM says outsourcing should be addressed in negotiations, not through arbitration.

Union leaders have scheduled a rally tomorrow at Alaska’s headquarters to protest the possible outsourcing.

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